Lectionary readings: Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-6, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30
Let us pray: Speak to us this morning, O God, and give us ears to hear your words to us. Show us your majesty and your truth. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
“Throw him off a cliff!”
I wonder if any of you can relate to this: you are on your way home from work after a long day, and you are so ready to go home. As you drive home through traffic, probably stuck on some bridge or other, you decide what you’re going to do when you get home: start dinner, maybe, and take care of that nagging task that you definitely have not been putting off, but also take some time to do something relaxing, like take a nice long bath or read a book or watch your favorite show.
You pull into the driveway, park and bring all your stuff in, and as soon as you open the door it’s chaos. Your dog has gotten into the trash again and there’s stinking trash everywhere, or something is leaking and so there’s water all over the floor, or whatever sounds just incredibly exhausting to take care of. But more than exhausting: infuriating. Irritating beyond belief, because, instead of having a nice, quiet evening, you now have to take care of whatever-it-is, and there go your wonderful, relaxing plans, and instead you’ll be up late doing something you never wanted to do in the first place, grumpy and angry all the way.
Don’t get me wrong, I am right there with you. This is one of my least favorite, most infuriating experiences.
Having our expectations unmet can be shocking, irritating, infuriating. It leaves us feeling like things aren’t quite right. It’s an emotional experience.
The people of Nazareth would agree whole-heartedly. They go to synagogue on Saturday, as you do. They see that Jesus is there. Oh, nice, I didn’t know Joseph’s son was back in town! I wonder how he’s been doing? Jesus reads from the book of Isaiah of God’s faith and mercy, of how God will send the Spirit to not only bring good news, but also to free captives and give abundantly to those who don’t have enough and to begin a time of joy and love and abundance. Jesus preaches from this passage, saying that the time has come, that the people are seeing this very thing in front of them, in the world around them. Man, they say to each other, Jesus can preach! What a sermon! Those words he’s saying–they are so well-chosen, so gracious and powerful. I can almost feel the Spirit, here, now, they say to one another. Remember when he was just a kid? Remember when he didn’t even reach up to my knees, when he could barely walk? And look at him now!
“And you’ll tell me to look to myself before I preach to you,” Jesus continues, and they look at each other a bit, uncomfortable. “You’ll want me to perform miracles here, like you’ve heard that I’ve done in other places.” Um, obviously, they say to each other. “But prophets and their hometowns don’t get along. Wasn’t Elijah sent to a widow of Sidon–outside of Israel, far from Jerusalem–instead of any of the many widows of Israel? Wasn’t Elisha sent to the king of the Syrians, to heal his leprosy, despite the many lepers of Israel?”
And the people of Nazareth, the people whom Jesus had grown up with, who’d watched him learn to walk and become an adult, dragged him from the synagogue in a rage and tried to throw him off a cliff.
If it seems sudden, it is. If it seems extreme, it is. If it seems weird–yep. If it seems like a very human moment of these villagers–also yes. Don’t we all just react sometimes, do something rash and violent and utterly regrettable?
The Nazarenes expected the home-town advantage. They wanted Jesus to give them special treatment, because after all, He was one of them. He’d seen their kids grow up. He’d grown up with some of them. He knew all of them by name, by their histories and their families. How could He needle them like that? How could He say that He’d heal other people instead of them? What about old Bob over there, with his arthritis? And Anna, who was blind in her old age? Was He really going to ignore them all, go gallivanting off and heal instead all those people He didn’t even know? Did He have no loyalty, no pride in being from Nazareth?
They didn’t want to hear that this ministry that Jesus was embarking on, this fulfillment of God’s mercy and grace, was going to expand far beyond the borders of their town. They didn’t want to hear about how Jesus healed also in Capernaum, in Jerusalem, in all these places they’d never been to. They wanted this word, this grace, to be for them alone. (Maybe a tiny bit for other people)
And instead Jesus reminds them that this new thing that God is doing is far, far bigger than them, that God has always expanded far beyond our human borders, to orphans and widows, to those so ill that no one would touch them, to their oppressors the Syrians and their hated foreign neighbors, with their strange customs and their strange gods. He reminds them that being a Jew, knowing the right people, is no guarantee of anything: that God’s grace is unexpected in the extreme, appearing and reappearing where we least expect it, where we believe it is the least-deserved.
They react with anger–they drag Jesus from the synagogue, to the highest hill and try to throw Him from it.
It’s easy to shake our heads, to say to each other: “Hey, it’s Jesus. Jesus is weird and unpredictable and you should have just accepted it, Nazarenes.” But what about when Jesus pops up where we are? when Jesus reminds us that we don’t get special treatment, no more than anyone else? What about when Jesus points us to those we don’t want to see, the people who we wish He’d ignore, who we think don’t deserve any grace? People who are in jail, who are on death row. The homeless. The woman in front of us at the check out line, who is taking forever and struggles to speak English. The family, chattering away in another language. Terrorists. Senators. That person we just got in a Facebook argument with, about gun rights or abortion or whatever else makes you want to dismiss the other side as everything that is wrong with the world.
Because, don’t get me wrong, Jesus loves each of us–but Jesus also loves everyone else, everyone whose differences we shy away from and don’t understand, everyone that we disagree with with every fiber of our being, everyone that we think has made the worst possible decisions and has become a despicable human being. Every single one of them.
In the face of that truth, the Nazarenes are angry.
OK, look. There’s nothing wrong with being angry with God. The psalms are full of it; the prophets are full of it; the Bible is full of people who are angry with God. To anger alone, God reacts with compassions, listens and sometimes, eventually, gives answers and assurance. There’s nothing wrong with being angry with God, with saying as loudly as we can, “God, this is not who I thought you were, and I don’t know what to do now.” But, uh… trying to kill people by throwing them from tall hills is not a proper response to anger. Neither is any other way of lashing out and hurting people.
And so my prayer for all of us is that as we go out today, that we will be given the grace to see God around us, in all the unexpected places, in the words of those we think God would not use. My prayer is that we will see the anger and fear and whatever else that stirs in us, and instead of reacting with the modern-day equivalent of throwing them off a cliff, that we will bring those feelings to God and see God in and through them.
And so let us go.