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"Who are you to preach to us?"

Fr Terry writes:

A certain amount of scepticism in life is a good thing. It allows us to test claims and to sift the true from the false. It prevents us from being deceived. But of course, it can go too far. You have probably met people whose scepticism is excessive. They question everything and have a distressing tendency towards mockery and scorn. They find it difficult to trust . The in the synagogue at Nazareth in today’s gospel reading (Luke 4.21-30) is an incident where scepticism has overbalanced. Jesus has just explained a passage from scripture in an enlightening way, making it apply to the present. Initially his words are regarded as gracious, but this quickly becomes mockery: ‘Who are you to preach to us?’ they ask. ‘We know this man. He comes from a working-class family. Who is he to talk to us of sublime and holy things?’

When I read this passage it seems to speak to our own times and our own condition. Western culture seems to have become very sceptical, and not just in matters of religion. The media love to set up heroes on pedestals and then knock them down. No one is to be trusted, there is no message that cannot be discredited, there is nothing and no one that we can believe in. This then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, with society increasingly moving from scepticism to cynicism. For example look at v 23, which tells us that those who listened to Jesus were well aware of the miracles he had worked at Capernaum (see Mark 2.1-12). But it seems that those listening to Jesus want him to do God’s work for them, without being expected to do anything themselves. This attitude, only too common in our own time, makes it virtually impossible for Jesus to bring the same healing to their midst. He would be a performing rock star of miracles, not the truth-telling, grace-bringing, salvation-making Son of God.

I hear resonances with our own age. Where Christian people bring practical help, they are welcomed. Where they build up community, they are praised. But when they speak a word of faith, pointing to the One who inspires all the good they do, suddenly they are accused of fundamentalism, or brain-washing, or intolerance.

Against this there is the simple message of Jesus: join me in the kingdom, where the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed and no one is without a friend, where we rejoice in God’s love and seek to emulate his mercy. The trigger for the anger in the gospel today comes when Jesus hints that there are others beyond the historic people of God with whom he can work. So, too, one of the most remarkable facts about Christianity in our times is the way it flourishes in Africa, Asia and Latin America, while in its historical heartlands it struggles. The people who hear the message today and respond to it are found in many races, tribes and languages. The growth of the people of God knows no boundaries.

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