A new season of American Idol started recently. So far, they have been showing the auditions in Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma. The contestants are shown with the families and friends they brought with them to the auditions. A few of the stories about how they got their start have been shared. There have been really good singers and some really, really bad singers. I’m afraid if I auditioned they would show my audition with the judges laughing at how bad I sang.
As the season progresses, the 200 contestants who made it to Hollywood will quickly be widdled down to a handful. When the show gets down to the final 3 or 4, the contestants will have been away from their families for a few months. They’ll each be given the opportunity to go to their hometown with a crew to record their time at home. They’ll be celebrated by their loved ones. They’ll be recharged for the final weeks of the competition. And, America will get to know their stars a little better.
Has anyone famous ever grown up in Bethany?
I got to thinking, “What if the next American Idol was from Bethany?”
When she came home for her hometown visit – the idol would be a girl because the last couple winners have been boys – when she came home for her hometown visit, we would swarm around her. Of course, the camera crews from Fox and all the local news reporters would come rolling into our little village with her. The reporters would want to hear from us about what she was like growing up. Her kindergarten teacher might say, “She’s been singing since she learned her ABCs.” Her best friend’s neighbor’s cousin will say he knew her when she was younger. The bank employees might talk about how she came in to deposit the $5 her grandmother gave her every year for her birthday. The librarian will tell about the times she came to story hour. People she didn’t even know will make up stories for 15 seconds of camera time.
Of course, someone will ask if she’s going to sing at the Celebration this summer, a kind of last hoorah before she hits the road on her world tour. When someone becomes famous, she becomes a daughter of her hometown. Everyone will think about how they had some small part in her success. Our daughter of Bethany will be the crown of the village for years to come.
This is like the scene we find Jesus in. We pick up where we left off last week. His fame had gone throughout the country. They now had the opportunity to hear Him teach. Jesus taught in the synagogue and announced that he was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. All were amazed at His teaching.
The people can’t believe He is one of them, but like a rock star. They can’t believe a great prophet has been raised up from one of them. Talking amongst themselves, they wonder, “How can it be that Joseph’s boy would say such things?” “He’s just an ordinary boy.” “He’s one of us.” “He’s Joseph and Mary’s boy.”
Of course, they’ve heard about all the signs and wonders He has done in the other towns. They’re going to want to see Him do miracles in His hometown. They want their son to show off. But, He’s not just going to entertain them. He has a mission. He had already been tried by the devil in the wilderness. He had been promised power and wealth, but didn’t succumb to the devil. Surely, He wasn’t going to be thrown off by the people of His hometown.
He’s not Joseph’s son. He’s not just the son of Mary. He’s not just the son Nazareth. He’s the son of God. He has the great work of a prophet ahead of Him. He needs the people to understand who He is, so He recalls for them the difficult work of a prophet.
First, He reminds them of the story of the widow of Zarephath in Sidon. The widow’s story can be found in 1st Kings chapter 17. After King Solomon’s sons had split the kingdom of Israel, there was a famine in the land. A prophet Elijah was raised up to speak truth to the kings of Israel. God sent the prophet Elijah to Zarephath to stay. There he stayed with a widow had a cup of flour and a little oil in a bottle to feed her and her son. They would soon die of starvation. Elijah asked her to make a loaf of bread for him. He said to her: “This is what Israel’s God, the Lord, says: The jar of flour won’t decrease and the bottle of oil won’t run out until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.” As time went on, the flour and oil didn’t run out. The widow, her son and Elijah had bread to eat. While Elijah was still staying with her, the widow’s son became ill and died. The widow was upset and went to Elijah for help. Elijah spread himself out over the boy three times and cried out to God to give the boy his life back. The boy lived.
Second, He reminds the people of the healing of Naaman the Syrian. Naaman’s story can be found in 2 Kings chapter 5. An Israelite girl told Naaman that the Jewish prophet could heal him of his leprosy. Naaman went to the king who sent him with a letter to the King of Israel. The letter asked the King of Israel to cure Naaman. The foreign general went to the prophet Elisha for healing. Elisha told him to go wash in the Jordan River seven times. The general was angry that the prophet didn’t just wave his magic hand over his skin and cure him. Naaman humbled himself and went to wash as the prophet said and he was made clean.
In the situation of the widow and Naaman, the prophets helped those who were not Jews. From the beginning of time to the time of the kings, God was understood to be the God of Israel so was only sovereign over the people of Israel. Elijah and Elisha took God’s healing to people and lands thought to be outside of God’s jurisdiction.
By reading Isaiah and recalling the great prophets, Jesus puts Himself in the school of God’s prophets who call the people to repentance for the ways in which they reject God’s justice and righteousness. The stories of the widow and Naaman are stories of Gentiles who were recipients of God’s grace because they, though not Jews, were obedient to God. Jesus’ proclamation about the prophets Elijah and Elisha affirms that God has no boundaries.
His message challenged the people of Nazareth to expand their Messianic expectations. They had been filled with hope for the restoration of the Davidic kingdom and the salvation of the Jewish people. Jesus’ message that day set forth a plan that would not meet their expectations.
Jesus was not called only to the people in the synagogue. Jesus had been called to the poor, the blind, the lame, the oppressed. More than that, He was called to both Gentiles and Jews. In His mission, there was no mention of a king like King David and no mention of the Kingdom of Israel. If they were to accept Jesus and His mission, they would need to open their minds to the possibility that God had something greater planned.
The town wasn’t ready. Jesus’ message angered the people of Nazareth. For that, they ran Him out of town. They tried to drive Him over the cliff to kill Him, but He escaped this plot to kill Him.
What we can learn from today’s story is that Jesus doesn’t belong to us. He is not going to do what we want Him to do. He is not going to go where we want Him to go. His mission is not our mission. We may call Him our personal Savior, but He is more than that.
The difficulty with this text is that He is very clear what His mission is. He has been sent by God to release and restore the least of these, those marginalized by society. This should challenges us to expand our understanding of God’s plan for redemption.
As Jesus taught through the stories of the widow and Naaman, God’s grace is not solely possessed by Israel – it is universal. We in the church are challenged to remember that Jesus’ mission isn’t just to us and for us. It is offered to all of God’s children, especially those outcast from society for being the wrong color or addicted to drugs or unable to find work.
His mission is also tangible. It isn’t about personal salvation for eternal life. His mission has actual measurable outcomes relevant to our current life situation. This isn’t a mission to hand out tickets to the ship that sails to the great beyond. Jesus’ salvation is personal and real. Eternal life means nothing to those in abusive relationships. Jesus’ salvation is release from abuse.
The people of Nazareth present us with a warning. We should be careful not to abandon Jesus and try to push Him off a proverbial cliff just because He doesn’t do or say what we want. In those times He isn’t doing what we want, perhaps it is time to expand our vision rather than drive Him away.
Jesus is the Son of God. He will do the will of His Father. His salvation is real and for all. For that, we are grateful.