Friday, February 1, 2013

Epiphany 4 2013

Epiphany 4C SABC 2-3-13 Jeremiah 1-4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, I Corinthians 12, St. Luke 4:21-30

           “When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.”  The Greek word is thumos, found 18 times in the New Testament: in St. Luke 4:28 and Acts 19:28 the rage of the crowd, 5 times in St. Paul, once in Hebrews for Moses’ faith fleeing from Pharaoh’s wrath, and in the Revelation about the wrath of God against evil-doing.

          Wrath is one of the 7 capital or deadly sins – Wrath, Avarice, Sloth, Pride, Lust, Envy, and Gluttony.  All these sins are natural human characteristics taken to an extreme that dominates our lives and control us.  St. Paul calls wrath (in Galatians 5:20) one of the works of the flesh, and tells the Christians to put it away. 

          By God’s grace we can put away wrath and replace it in our lives by the love of God we read of in First Corinthians 13 in today’s epistle.

          In today’s gospel, “When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage” Rage is anger out of proportion. The congregation began with positive feelings toward Jesus. “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” But Jesus disappointed them. He called them to repentance and a change of heart.

          An hour walk northwest of Nazareth is Sepporis, the traditional home of Mary’s parents, a center of Roman authority, with many Gentiles and Greek-speaking Jews, despised neighbors. Jesus calls the Nazareth congregation to repent of their attitude toward the Gentiles.

          The crowd’s response to Jesus’ call to repentance was anger, and more than anger, murderous 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.”

          Acts 19 is similar. At Ephesus in Turkey was a great temple to the goddess Diana of the Ephesians with an image carved from a meteorite.  (black and white picture of an ivory statue) She was an ancient goddess of fertility.  St. Paul preached there over two years, and his ministry had been blessed by the Holy Spirit. Many had been converted and many healed, so many that the idol-makers feared for their business and raised a riot. But the city authorities held a hearing in the city theatre, and St. Paul’s friends sent him on his way to Macedonia.

          From these bible accounts and our own experience we learn about thumos or rage.  Rage is anger carried to such an extreme that it takes control of our emotions and actions. Rage leads to extreme actions - in the biblical accounts to attempted murder, in our experience to similar tragedy. Rage comes on us suddenly without much warning.

          Anger is a reaction to disappointment, a feeling that comes when things are not as they should be, when we feel we are not getting what is due to us, what is fair. One of the spiritual gifts God gives children is a keen moral sense of what is fair to them. We are of course better able to discern what is not fair for us because we are keenly aware of all our circumstances – or think we are. We don’t know the details of others’ lives, and it is harder for us to see the unfairness that leads to their frustration.

          We all learn more or less well to deal with our angers. We can learn to stop, to “count to ten,” to withdraw and not be consumed by anger in others. Jesus “passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” St. Paul moved on from Ephesus to Macedonia, to begin proclaiming the good news of Jesus on the continent of Europe.

          We all have different triggers for our anger. Over time we can learn what situations evoke anger, what experiences tend to hook us in. Parents, siblings, and spouses learn what actions and situations give us pleasure and which evoke anger. Those of us who have taken a long car trip with two children in the back seat know what I’m talking about.  And that’s a small example. There are more serious ones.

          Anger and rage are human emotional reactions. So is love. And love is God’s antidote for anger and rage. Sometimes the hard word has to be said.  The people of the synagogue in Nazareth needed to hear Jesus’ true word of God’s love for their Gentile neighbors. St. Paul’s ministry in Ephesus was a fruitful ministry of preaching and healing. The church in Ephesus that Paul founded later offered refuge to St. John and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

          But as we learned from our parents, “Mean what you say, but don’t say it mean.” The God who made us loves us and pours out his love on us so we can love others in his name. St. Paul in today’s Epistle reminds us of this love.  By God’s grace we can put away wrath and replace it in our lives by the love of God, love that is patient, kind, not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude, love that does not insist on its own way, is not irritable or resentful, does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  This love is God’s love in Jesus given to us to share. May God give us grace and opportunity to drive anger and rage from our hearts and replace it with his love.

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