3rd Sunday after Epiphany, January 26, 2020
– Matthew 4:12-23
– The Reverend Dr. Arnold Isidore Thomas –
I’ve mentioned before that certain cities and areas of our country and world have, at one time or another, been regarded as places most people would want to avoid. I’ve also said that such places tend to be locations God prefers to dwell. Every region of our country knows such places.
In my first parish located in Little Rock, Arkansas, I organized a hike against hunger and routed the path in such a way that walkers would venture through various neighborhoods of the city. I called the police department to provide safety through each section of the hike. And as I spoke by phone with the officer responsible for coordinating security during the hike, I was urged by him not to walk through a particular neighborhood. When I asked why, he paused and said, “Because it’s the black section of town.” Now obviously he didn’t know to whom he was speaking. So, you can imagine the delight I felt in introducing myself to him on the day of the hike.
Some of you probably come from regions of the country that make fun of neighboring regions. I was born and raised in Ohio, the residents of which love making fun of West Virginians. Allow me to offer three examples that I can actually repeat.
Did you hear that the governor’s mansion in West Virginia burned down? Nearly took out the entire trailer park.
Why isn’t ice water served in West Virginia restaurants? The person who had the recipe left the state.
What are the best four years of a West Virginian’s life? Third grade.
Now you can rest assured that West Virginians have their arsenal of put-downs for Ohioans as well, because we tend to delight in having fun at the expense of others.
Most likely, such attitudes existed in Israel as well during the time of Jesus, especially between the region of Judea and Galilee. John’s Gospel tells us that it was commonly held among Judeans that no prophet or Messiah could come from Galilee (7:42,52). And the nativity narratives of the gospels go to great lengths to convince the reader that Jesus, though a Galilean, was born in Bethlehem of Judea.
But in matters of the Spirit, it truly doesn’t matter where you were born, or from what neighborhood or nation you come. The divine standard conveyed by the Prophet Samuel still applies, “The Lord does not see as mortals see. They look on outward appearances, but the Lord looks upon the heart.” (1st Samuel 16:7)
I share this as a matter of caution and concern, because often our faith identity prevents us from seeing the fact that God knows no boundaries and shows no partiality (Acts 10:34). Jesus discovered this in his encounters with Samaritans (John 4:7-42), with whom he earlier discouraged his disciples from associating (Matthew 10:5). And the Apostle Paul, a Jew trained in the Pharisaic tradition, acknowledged there were Gentiles who had no knowledge of Jewish law, yet did instinctively what the law required, showing that the law was written on their hearts (Romans 2:14-15). Despite our religious upbringing that conditions us to believe that God favors Christians, it may be more Christian for us to recognize that the character of sacrificial compassion and love abides in people of every nation and faith, and resolve that in them also God abides.
We live in a nation and world where it matters from where you come. We red-line our neighborhoods to prevent certain people from buying homes in them. We red-line our borders to prevent certain people from crossing them. We red-line our faith to prevent certain people from affecting them. And we red-line our hearts to prevent certain people from changing them.
But God, who looks upon the heart, is not changed. This is why Jesus began his ministry in Galilee, amid Jews and Gentiles who intermingled and associated with one another in ways offensive to more religious and racially pure Judeans.
It is that place where we prefer not to venture or live where God abides. Whether that place be a physical or spiritual dwelling, it is essential that you find it, occupy it, and live. Amen