Luke 4:21-30 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Then Jesus began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
A scene in last week’s scripture put Jesus back in his hometown. It was a highly anticipated and exciting event to have Jesus come to preach and teach where he grew up. There was a buzz about them as they gathered to hear what this homegrown boy had to say. All seemed to go well and it’s said in scripture that “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” The fact that this was Joseph’s son speaking seemed to surprise and astound many. Yet, many in the crowd sneered at his words as he spoke the truth.
Why were they so angry? Why had the crowd gone from excited anticipation, to being amazed at his speech, to being so furious at the content and how he challenged them with the truth about themselves? Jesus inflames them even more by saying that with the attitudes some were harboring in their hearts at that very moment, the Nazareth community was not worthy of a divine working. (sermon.com) And so, Jesus would go elsewhere – saying “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.”
Author, physician, and early developer of integrative medicine and a person who has had a life-long struggle with Crohn’s disease, Rachel Naomi Remen, wrote in her book Kitchen Table Wisdom: “A label is a mask life wears.” That is perhaps true for Jesus and how the hometown folk labeled him. I have shared with you one of Remen’s stories in the past, and I share another one this morning from the chapter entitled: How We See One Another.
“As an adolescent I was tall, pimply, and frankly, homely. My family is a family of elegant women and my second cousin, who was several years older than I, took it upon herself to help me with the graces that my intellectual parents deemed unimportant. One Saturday a month she would take me shopping and then to lunch at the Russian Tea Room, a formal and lovely place in New York. These excursions were agony for me. All the clothes I tried on hung on me. I had grown tall rapidly and was painfully clumsy. Once I tripped over my own feet and fell full-length in the street, scraping both knees and my chin and soiling my dress. My cousin was a very kind woman who seemed neither critical nor ashamed of me. She helped me up and took me to tea, bleeding chin, dirty dress, and all.
After a few years of this she married. Caught up in the demands of my education and then my professional training, I lost touch with her. Some years later, when her children were in school and I was a young doctor, we resumed our shopping lunches. Now when we entered the Russian Tea Room together we would stop conversation – both of us very tall and exotic looking, we would take it by storm. This might have been great fun except for the fact that my cousin had never updated her inner picture of me. Despite the obvious changes in my looks and capabilities, she still saw me as a hopelessly clumsy adolescent. And I could not escape her unspoken expectations.
We would sit down to lunch and in the course of the afternoon I would regress. I would spill my red win across the flawless white tablecloth or dribble gravy down the front of my dress. Once the strap of my purse caught underneath the bag, upsetting it and spilling lipsticks, keys, wallets, and [other embarrassing items] across the tearoom floor. My cousin bore these incidents graciously without comment. Totally unaware of her role in these happenings and the power of her private image, she would smile at me with compassion and acceptance and help me clean up the mess. It was infuriating.”
I think Jesus was feeling some of these things as well. Perhaps you have had the same experience of falling into these trappings or maybe it’s time for you to update your inner perceptions of a younger person in your life. So too, the crowd had a hard time accepting who Jesus was and Jesus confronted the crowd because of who they were.
Bill Bouknight (Collected Sermons, eSermons.com) wrote: “The people of Nazareth, the people Jesus grew up with, the ones He had probably built furniture for or repaired a roof for. The people who he had attended Synagogue with, got ‘Hopping Mad’ when he confronted them about how unaccepting they were. They got ‘Madder than a hornet’ and attempted to throw Jesus off the cliff upon which the town was built. They weren’t just irritated they weren’t just mad, they were ‘good and mad’ …”
Jesus held up a mirror to them reflecting back their behavior and attitudes and prejudices, and character and they were furious and drove him out of town with the mob mentality of desiring to throw him off the cliff. But he passed through them and went on his way.
Bouknight acknowledges that “We despise people who challenge our cherished myths and kick us out of our comfort zones. The truth is that when Jesus sets about the task of saving us, he has to heal us of any myth or prejudice that is contrary to the spirit of Christ. [Evangelist] Billy Sunday was conducting a crusade in a particular city. In one of his sermons he said something critical of the labor conditions for workers in that area. After the service, several prominent businessmen sent a message to him by one of the local pastors. The message was this –Billy, leave labor matters alone. Concentrate on getting people saved. Stay away from political issues. You’re rubbing the fur the wrong way.’ Billy Sunday sent this message back to them: ‘If I’m rubbing the fur the wrong way, tell the cats to turn around.’” Mirroring and speaking truth to power is always risky business.
Richard Wing acknowledged that “Jesus lived on the margins and moved the margins to include all people, and hence invited hostile crowds to want to edge him out of existence. Today the church wants to edge Jesus out of our worship anytime the margins are made too wide and include too many who are not like us. Recently I was sitting at my computer, contemplating the way Jesus offended so many people so quickly in his ministry. I asked, ‘why?’ The answer was at the top of my screen. My word processing instructions at the top read; ‘Drag the margin boundaries on the rulers.’ That is why he upset people so much: in his life he dragged the margin boundaries of race, creed, and color to include all people. He dragged the margin boundaries when he gave a common meal, which we have made a holy meal symbolic of his inclusive love for all people. Jesus is dragged to the edge of a cliff to be put out of the lives of his townspeople because no one wants the margins of daily living to be inclusive of strangers.” (Richard Wing, Deep Joy for a Shallow World, CSS Publishing Co)
David Davis mirrors and frames for us this reality in this way: “When God’s light shines on the way of the cross, you and I are invited to see both the stretch of God’s grace and the truth of our own disobedience. Here so early in Luke’s gospel, the Lord’s encounter with humanity’s self-righteousness and preoccupation with the hometown attitude, it is already driving him to the cross. Before the healings and the teaching and the miraculous catch of fish, before Mary and Martha, and the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son and Zacchaeus, before the rich man who was told to sell everything and give it to the poor and the poor widow who put in everything she had, before all of that, Jesus was on his way to the cross. Before Luke makes it abundantly clear that the Gospel of Jesus Christ would reach into ‘all the living that you have’, Jesus was well on his way. It’s that reach that causes us to squirm, or to keep a safe distance, or to run away. (David Davis, sermons.com)
As Rachel Naomi Remen’s cousin was culpable but without awareness of the role she played in Rachel’s life, we too are culpable and perhaps without awareness of the role we play that brings Jesus to the cross once again. It’s in the confrontation – the mirroring – that our own awareness grows.
The night before I started to write this sermon I had a dream. I was being confronted with the fact that my own behavior was harming another. First I felt embarrassed, then I experienced a sense of shame, then came anger and defensiveness and a desire for retaliation. Then there came an awareness not to hurt or fight back, or runaway, but an understanding of this gift of grace that would enable me to work to change my behavior.
David Davis wrote that: “The Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall wonders how is it that the theology of ‘megachurchianity’ in our culture assumes that everyone has the strong compulsion to ‘get as close to Jesus as possible; [the reality, however, means that] to draw near to this Jesus is to encounter the Gospel that confronts and convicts and threatens. And you and I find our place somewhere in Luke’s crowd, because if we’re honest, the Gospel of Jesus Christ hits too close to home, to the hometown crowd. ‘They got up, drove him out of town and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was build, so that they might hurl him off the cliff . . . but Jesus went on his way.” (David Davis, sermons.com)
A question for us to ponder this week: How does today’s story mirror for us our own failings with those we meet around us, in this world, and in this particular time and place in history?
The reality may make us squirm or feel guilty or embarrassed or feel shame or anger or want to retaliate or fight or runaway – or just possibly embrace this gift of grace that mirrors our own work and character. This last choice is still not an easy one, but it is a faithful one and a vulnerable one that calls us to look within at our own culpability. That awareness then helps us to expand our own embrace of the Gospel call – not only in our hearts but in our daily living.
May God continue to bless us and strengthen us for this sacred journey called life. Amen.
Copyright DMC 2019