Text: Luke 10:1-20
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
O. Henry, the famous short story author, wrote a story about a man who was a cosmopolite, a sophisticated citizen of the entire world. In this story, the cosmopolite in a dapper red tie impressed the narrator with his experiences and ability to be at home anywhere in the world, free from any kind prejudice or ties to any one place. If you’ll pardon the spoiler, at the end of the story the cosmopolite shocks the narrator by getting into a fistfight with a complete stranger in a high-class restaurant. The reason for the fight? The narrator asks the waiter, who tells him, “The man with the red tie got hot on account of things said about the bum sidewalks and water supply of the place he come from by the other guy.” The narrator was dumbfounded. “Why?! That man is a citizen of the world—a cosmopolite.” The waiter explained, “Originally from Mattawaumkeag, Maine he said, and he wouldn’t stand for no knockin’ the place.”
This clever little story is meant to show that no matter how genteel or worldly someone may be, there will always be a level of pride about the places we come from. Hometown pride, nationalistic pride, these are common to us all. And it can be a good thing, properly channeled. It can be good for building up a community. It can help people do their part in making it a nice place to live. For example, in our Gospel reading today, Jesus mentions the town of Capernaum. Capernaum was not a large, prestigious city like others around the Sea of Galilee. But it was a clean, pleasant fishing village. It captured the hearts even of a Roman centurion, who provided the funds to build a top-of-the-line synagogue. Peter, James, and John had their fishing business in Capernaum. Jesus even used it as a base of operations as He preached throughout the region. Capernaum was a place that people could be proud to call home.
But when that pride begins to creep into our lives before God, then it becomes a problem. Capernaum hadn’t rejected Jesus, as least not as openly and violently as the people in His hometown of Nazareth had. He performed miracles in this small idyllic village. Capernaum could boast that of all the cities on those shores, Jesus called this one His home. It was the kind of place that a rabbi and miracle worker of that caliber would choose to live in and use as His mission center. Capernaum must be doing something right, they thought, to be honored this way by God.
But it’s exactly at that point that we go from healthy thankfulness to something else. Jesus mentions Capernaum in our reading, but it’s to pronounce woe upon the town. “And you Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades.” He puts Capernaum in the same category as towns that had rejected Him. “Woe to you Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum…” Chorazin and Bethsaida, those pure-as-the-driven-snow small town communities, surrounded by unclean sinner Gentiles (or so they liked to believe) are spoken of as being more worthy of judgment than the towns of Tyre and Sidon, the twin pagan cities that sprouted such characters as Queen Jezebel. Jesus here says that if those cities, Tyre and Sidon, had the blessing of Jesus there performing miracles, they would have repented of their evil ways and come to faith. But these “pure” towns of Chorazin and Bethsaida, the proud village of Capernaum, they have had their own self-righteousness and pride get in the way, and their hearts were hardened.
Now we have to ask ourselves: Is Jesus condemning every sort of hometown pride? No, of course not, when it stays within its proper bounds. It’s good to create orderly, safe places for people to live in. It’s good to have communities where people can get what they need to support their bodies and lives. But when these things start to get in the way of our relationship with God; or worse, when we start thinking that our relationship with God is affected because we’re a part of this or that community or town or nation or race or ethnicity or whatever, then it becomes a big problem. Jesus doesn’t like anything getting in the way of our standing with God. He doesn’t like for us to think than any identifying feature of our own, or where we come from, has any bearing on how God deals with us.
Our standing before God does not depend on or change because we live in Capernaum or Bethsaida or Elmhurst or the United States. Those places are simply our temporary citizenship; destined to end at some point. That doesn’t mean that we despise them. We can give thanks for any of God’s gifts in this world, including our homes. But Jesus wants us all to recognize that our standing before God—our eternal citizenship—depends on something else entirely.
“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And He said to them, ‘Heal the sick [there] and say to them, The kingdom of God has come near to you. But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’” Jesus wants us to always remember that our eternal citizenship is in the kingdom of God. This is not an earthly location or regime. It’s not one system of government or another. And it certainly isn’t the vision of any political party. The kingdom of God is the reign of God in our lives. It’s His rule over us to banish the powers of hell that want to dominate us. It’s His gracious care and governance of us. It’s not limited to one place or tribe or race. It doesn’t come through the methods and means of this world either, political or economic policies. The kingdom of God comes only through God’s Word. “The one who hears you hears me,” Jesus says to His 72 preachers. “And the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
This is why Capernaum, Chorazin, and Bethsaida receive their chastisement from Jesus. They believed that their way of life, their beautiful villages, their communities’ goodness and purity, were what the kingdom was all about. But those villages are all in ruins now. They were anything but an eternal kingdom.
We would do well to remember this. Thank God for worldly freedoms. Rejoice in the good places He gives us to live. Help make places and communities in this world better. But never let them become more than that. Always remember the eternal kingdom to which your true citizenship belongs. So pray and work to make your earthly homes and communities better, of course. But also strengthen that connection to your eternal citizenship by hearing the Word. Come to the places where that Word is proclaimed, as the 72 were sent to proclaim it; as all of their successors, pastors and preachers, are sent to proclaim it. Hear it and rather than exalting yourself to heaven, humble yourself before the greatness of God’s love. Rejoice not that the things of this world or the spirits of the age are subject to you. Rejoice not even if you can banish shadow and darkness, as the 72 disciples did. Give thanks, yes, but always remember the greater rejoicing that comes when you know that your name is written in heaven. Rejoice when you hear of your never-ending citizenship in the kingdom of God. Rejoice as the kingdom of God has come near you today through the declaration of His Word and the gift of His body and blood. In the name of Jesus, who gives us an eternal home, Amen.