Lepers, Social Outcasts – and the Church

In today’s Gospel, we read “There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha”. Who are the lepers in the Church of today? My parish pew leaflet this morning has the important observation:

The message of Jesus is inclusive, it is Good News for everyone, Jews and lepers alike. His townspeople didn’t like this; it was too much for them, and so they set out to kill him.

Would you react any differently to the people of Nazareth if you were told that God welcomes immigrants, people of a different colour, and background, the social outcasts of today? In the eyes of God, all are welcome, everyone is equal.

And we could adapt the question above, to

Would you react any differently to the people of Nazareth if you were told that God welcomes people of a different affectional orientation, or gender minority –  those who are far too often, the social outcasts inside the church of today?

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At Gospel for Gays, Jeremiah Bartram has an extended reflection on this Gospel passage:

  Finding the gay Jesus  

gfg_iconThen he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.  They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”  He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’  And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”  And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.  But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.  There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”  When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.  They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.  But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

- Luke 4, 21-30; reading for Sunday, January 31.

Commentators

NRSV:  Jesus gives examples showing that “foreigners sometimes experienced God’s aid when Israel did not.”  V. 28:  “The hostile reaction comes in response to Jesus’ references to Gentiles, not to his apparent messianic claims (v.21).

Hardy makes the interesting observation that “there is no obvious reason why these people would have thought of casting this well-known proverb in Jesus’ teeth” – but that the taunt was thrown at him later, during his crucifixion (Mt. 27,42).  He thinks that Luke is using this scene as a “trailer” for the treatment Jesus was to receive elsewhere.  Likewise, he notes that the two Old Testament examples cited by Jesus – which so enrage the crowd – are more relevant to his later activity than to the present situation.

Those two examples:  Elijah, the widow of Zarephath and her son survive a famine because God miraculously extends her meager supply of flour and oil to feed them all (1Kings 17); and Naaman, a Gentile military commander, is healed of his leprosy when he follows Elisha’s instructions and bathes seven times in the Jordan (2Kings 5).

- continue reading at Gospel For Gays.

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