One Foot in the Oven; One Foot in the Freezer

In Christian Formation, many of us are reading the Harry Potter books and reflecting on the adventures of JK Rowling’s characters through a Christian lens.  When we resume classes, we will start the third book, Prisoner of Azkaban.  At the beginning of this book, the author gives us a rare glimpse into the thinking of the Dursley’s: the family who provide shelter to Harry Potter when he is not at school.

The Dursley’s are not magical people.  Harry is left at their doorstep when he is one year old.  They know that Harry’s parents were people who could use magic.  The author says, they “have a very medieval attitude toward magic….the Dursely’s had hoped that if they kept Harry as downtrodden as possible, they would be able to squash the magic out of him”.

After his second year at Hogwarts, Harry Potter returned to No 4 Privet Drive for the summer break.  Rowling says, “the Dursley’s lived in terror of anyone finding out that Harry [attended a school for magic].  The most they could do, however, was to lock away Harry’s [school things]…and forbid him to talk to the neighbors”. [1]

In Jesus’ lifetime, Jewish worship life was centered in Jerusalem—in the Temple.  By the first Century, larger Judean communities were often prosperous enough to have a synagogue for local worship.  These synagogues did not have the means to afford entire scrolls of Torah.  Usually, they had one scroll and maybe fragments of another.

Nazareth, where Jesus was raised, was a small, rural village[2].  It’s unlikely that such a small place would have a synagogue.  To date, archaeologists have excavated just one 1st C house foundation in Nazareth, but no 1st C synagogue foundation has been discovered.    

Yet, Luke chooses Nazareth as the setting for today’s Gospel lesson.  And that draws our attention to an important point:  If Luke hasn’t cast a historical setting for this teaching…then, the setting he chose is part of the story.  As I worked with the text this week, 3 points stood out to me.

Luke says, Jesus went to Nazareth and, on the Sabbath day, he went to the Synagogue … as was his custom.  There is Luke’s first point:  Jesus worships regularly.   Whether he’s on the road or at home, he observes the Sabbath.  He invests time in worship, listening to God’s Word, and teaching.

The story continues:  Jesus stands up to read, and the scroll of Isaiah is given to him.  He unrolls it and finds the place where a particular text is written.

There’s a lot to unpack here.  In the 1st C, very few Jews could read or write.  The Isaiah Scroll, as it existed in Jesus’ time, is on display in a museum.  It is 24 feet long.  24 feet! That’s longer than most of the Cowboy’s plays last weekend.  

Jesus unrolls this 24-foot document until he finds a particular text.  Luke’s second point:  Jesus is literate.  He learned to read without the benefit of Dr. Seuss or elementary school.  He’s not a casual reader of Isaiah.  He knows this text well enough that he can scan 24 feet of it to find the particular verses he intends to proclaim.  Jesus is a student of Scripture. 

After reading Isaiah to those who’ve gathered, he sat down and began to teach.

Luke says, “The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.”

Here is Luke’s 3 point…and the reason this text is situated in Nazareth:  We can hardly be surprised that the people of Nazareth were amazed.  They watched Jesus grow up, play stick ball in the streets, work alongside Joseph, step into his father role, and practice their shared religion.  I can imagine their questions:  When did Jesus learn to read?  When did he learn to interpret Scripture?  When did he step out of their station in life?

These are the very people who will be most amazed at Jesus’ revelation.  And the very people who are most likely to reject it.

Harry Potter is living two worlds.  He lives with a family at No 4 Privet Drive who do not have magical powers.  To them, he is strange and scary.  He is not like them.   The Dursley’s go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that no one knows this oddball lives with them.  They try to “squash the magic out of him”…to make him conform to their values.  In the family dynamic, Harry is the scapegoat.  All that goes wrong in their household is his fault. 

At Hogwarts, Harry is in a community of people who are like him.  There, he is famous, admired, and followed.  He is challenged to grow the gifts that are inherently his…he is encouraged to flourish into the person he was created to be.  Here, Harry is not the scapegoat.  But, the family dynamic at Hogwarts will establish scapegoats.

Rabbi Sacks, author of Not in God’s Name, says that, “We live and find our identity in groups”.[3] 

As Jesus teaches to the hometown folks, his growing reputation, abilities, and Calling do not square with the simple folk of Nazareth.  They don’t read.  They don’t teach.  They don’t heal.  They don’t liberate the oppressed.  In village speak, ‘he’s has gotten too big for his britches’.

Jesus must have known how his gifts, his calling, would be felt by his hometown folks.  They reject him from their group….he is freed to flourish. 

St. Martin’s Human Flourishing curriculum is quite remarkable.  Week after week, conversation after conversation, we grow in awareness that we live in two worlds:  The secular world, that seeks to conform our thinking, our values, our relationships.  And, the Kingdom of God that is here and now.  God’s Kingdom does not share the thinking or the values of our secular world. 

Walter Brueggemann wrote, “Preaching that is conformed to this world is in fact not worth the effort, because those words are available elsewhere”.

Jesus proclaims to the folks in Nazareth that he has come to bring good news to the poor, to heal those who suffer, to liberate the oppressed.  None of Jesus’ calling is conformed to this world.  This world celebrates wealth, health, and strength.   

There’s an old saying:  If you keep one foot in the oven and one foot in the freezer, on average, you’re just comfortable.   Sometimes I feel like that’s how we balance living in this secular world and God’s Kingdom on Earth.  But the witness of Jesus is quite different.  He goes to Nazareth, the secular world of his childhood, and intentionally proclaims his Calling.  It is his moment:  he will go forward walking in God’s Kingdom.

Stepping into our Calling as individuals or as a parish ought to be uncomfortable…because God’s Calling is discordant with this world.  May God bless us with discomfort, such that our lives and our ministries may be transfigured into God’s Calling for us.

[1] JK Rowling; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban p2

[2]; What do we know about Nazareth in Jesus’ time?  An archaeologist explains.

[3] Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence p100