Charity Begins at Home
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C, RCL
Jeremiah 1:4-10; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30; Psalm 71:1-6
We have heard it said, Charity begins at home. In our community and nation, we have people out of work. Somewhere within us, even if unsaid, we want our own people to get jobs before others. People don’t have enough food and we want our neighbors to get food before the people elsewhere. Someone needs healing, and we want our loved one to have the best doctors in the world.
The saying “charity begins at home” is a reflection of our human nature and seems hard-wired into most of us. When Jesus returns home, those who knew him growing up, the people who babysat him and took care of his skinned knees, want to see miracles. They want to see him turn water into wine, restore sight to the blind, and heal the lame within their own community. The people who know him best and love him want Jesus to work in his home town. This isn’t so unreasonable is it? Maybe not.
Our story today opens with the reading from last week. You may recall that Jesus read from the Prophet Isaiah. The passage was about freeing and healing people. Not just the people around Isaiah but all people; even the people who lived in enemy territory. Sure, all the people in Nazareth could have been healed by Jesus. He could have spent his entire life focused on this small town. If Jesus only spent his life in in his home town, Jesus may have only been known locally. His mission would not have spread to the gentiles, and his message of Good News would not have spread beyond the region of Galilee. Where would this have left the rest of the people?
Jesus seems to know what the people of the synagogue are thinking. They want him to perform miracles for them. They want Jesus to help his friends first. But Jesus reminds them that other prophets didn’t stay in their home towns. Well actually, they were pretty much run out of town. Jesus points out that some of the prophets most fantastic works were not even for the Jewish people or even for the great kingdom of Israel. Though there were many widows in Israel, Elijah went to a widow in Sidon and Elisha helped Naaman from Syria, a warring nation of Israel. God’s work, through the prophets, went beyond family or nation to everyone. I think we want the same as many others in the Bible; we want God, we want Christ for ourselves, for our families and our loved ones. We are faithful, and we want God to help us first.
The truth is that God is big enough for all people. We are not singled out when we do not see miracles popping in our back yard. Christ can be with you and me along with the unknown person on the other side of the world who doesn’t even know Christ at all. Christ’s primary mission is not individual acts of healing. Oh, it’s not that miracles don’t happen for they do, but his primary mission is for all people; a mission that each of us has a part.
Again this week, Paul is talking about our gifts; tongues, prophecy, faith. He says we can have the most powerful gifts in the world but if we do not have love they are meaningless. Paul goes on to tell us the hallmarks of love; patient and kind. He goes on to tell us what love is and isn’t. But we can distill it down to one word a word that exemplifies Christ’s life. Selfless; love is selfless.
Love is being concerned with others before we are concerned with ourselves. We often see this love in mothers who give of themselves for their children over and over again. But what Paul and Christ are saying is that true love goes beyond this. True love goes beyond our familial ties to our neighbors and strangers and even to those who we think will do us harm.
Jesus, out of love, does not perform signs for the people in the Synagogue. Out of love Jesus doesn’t stay in his home town. No matter how much good he would do, if he stayed it would be self-serving. When we fully embrace the love of God, we understand that we cannot hold onto it, clinging to it as if we are the ones entitle to God’s love. When we received God’s love we recognize the abundance and this abundance is so great that we overflow with this love. We are transformed. We realize that love spreads beyond the bound of our community and we do not have to try and hold onto it for ourselves. We no longer have to determine if someone is deserving of our love for there is plenty. Charity no longer begins at home, Charity begins by our hearts opening to each person we meet.