This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Man with nuclear bomb says no one else should have it. Netanyahu at UN
The Sons of Sceva
11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul,12so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them.13Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.’14Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this.15But the evil spirit said to them in reply, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?’16Then the man with the evil spirit leapt on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded.17When this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, everyone was awestruck; and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised.18Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices.19A number of those who practised magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books* was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins.20So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.
This is one of those missionary comedies that Luke, the author, loved. The grimmer story of Ananias and Saphira is another. I don’t really believe these tales, but they recreate the atmosphere of the heroic days of mission, emphasising that no worldly powers can stand against the power of Jesus’ spirit in the commuity or through his apostles. In this case the use of Jesus’ name in healing the demon-possessed is the issue. Luke thinks that the name has a power of its own apart from the sick person’s faith. The faith of the healer however is all- important as it is a true trust in the healing compassion of God seen in Jesus. The faith of the sons of Sceva is superstitious and magical. God’s healing works through those who commit themselves to his compassion. This is true of all kinds of healing. The magical nonsense offered by some TV evangelist-healers is exploitative and a disgrace to Christianity. The patient scientific work of a skilled physician is a more genuine response to the healing ministry of Jesus.
The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.<!– 16 –>
The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’23He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’24And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town.25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land;26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.27There were also many lepers* in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.29They 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.30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
Two notes on this passage:
1. Luke sees in the quotation from Isaiah (although the quotation is not accurate-did Jesus get it wrong?) as a summary of Jesus’ sense of vocation: bringing good news (that is, news of something victorious, not bad news of defeat) to the poor, the sections of society not in possession of wealth; releasing the captives (which Luke sees as those bound by any kind of evil); healing the blind ( and other categories of “disabled outcasts); setting free those subject to the violent control of others; and announcing that the year of God’s favour had arrived (the Jubilee year of Leviticus 25 when God’s justice would be totally restored especially by the abolition of debts.) If this is not quite what the average Christian church is about, it should ask itself why.
2. The fact that his neighbours think he’s loopy and in need of his own healing throws the shadow of failure of Jesus’ ministry from the outset. And Jesus’ hint that perhaps God intends his compassion for foreigners rather than Jews arouses a killing rage. As if I were to preach that God’s mercy is as likely to be extended to Moslems as to Christians. (If you doubt this, read Matthew 25: 31-46). Jesus’ lack of concern for what religious people think important is one of the grand features of the gospel tradition. Jesus never said, “Be religious,” he said “Love the Lord your God and your neighbour as yourself.” All this is not to undervalue the unique tradition of Jesus; precisley the opposite: it’s only the Jesus tradition that gets us out of the bonds of religion and into the love of God.