21Then [Jesus] began to say to [all in the synagogue in Nazareth,] “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth… 28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They 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. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.(Read the whole passage)
We are about half way through this mini-season of green ordinary time after Epiphany. We have heard the story of the wisemen following the star to Bethlehem, the story of God’s voice thundering from heaven over Jesus as he was baptized, and then watched as Jesus revived the wedding at Cana by turning water into wine.
Last week we moved on from the fantastical to the more familiar, to Jesus reading from the scriptures in the synagogue… readings the lessons in church. And yet, as we discover today in part 2 of this story, the familiar action is also the most scandalous. It’s scandalous for the people of Nazareth, but it is the familiarity of this scene… of being in a faith community together, of going to church just as many of us have for years, decades and generations, that also makes Jesus’ actions scandalous for us.
We begin by hearing again the brief sermon that Jesus preaches after reading the scroll. “Today this is fulfilled in your hearing”
What is fulfilled? Good news for the poor? The freedom for the oppressed and release for the captives? Sight for the blind? The year of the Lord’s favour when all debts are cancelled?
Not exactly. Although it is easy to get focused on what those pieces of good news might look like for us. But rather, the fulfillment that Jesus is talking about is rooted how Isaiah begins the passage. “The Spirit of Lord has anointed me.”
Sounds innocuous enough in English, but heard in Greek or in Hebrew, the meaning of what Jesus is getting at might become clearer. In Greek the word for anoint is Christos. In Hebrew the word is Messiah. Jesus is standing in his hometown synagogue and claiming the title of Messiah, the promised one of God, sent to save and redeem Israel.
And so naturally, the people of Nazareth respond with beaming smiles and nods and nudges to their neighbour and winks knowing that their hometown son has made it. “Isn’t he cute and wonderful,” they say to each other. “What a nice speaking voice and good posture,” they comment. “Isn’t this Joseph’s boy?” they marvel aloud.
But then things seem to go sideways. Maybe Jesus doesn’t like to be thought of as the cute hometown son so he pushes back against the people of Nazareth. He pokes at their comfort and pride. “You just came to see the show,” he says, “Not to hear the message.” And then he invokes images from familiar stories… the gentile widow of Zerephath who demonstrated an openness Elijah when he had to flee his home country… and Namann the Syrian Solider who showed greater faith than the people of Israel that surrounded him.
And with those jabs from Jesus, the beaming pride of the people of Nazareth turns to rage. Who is he to tell them what is what, he is a lowly carpenter’s son… just another boy from town… In their rage, they drive Jesus to the edge of a cliff, ready of cast him out into oblivion.
Now, while the shift from a happy and welcoming crowd to a raging one seems sudden… there has been something off about the folks in Nazareth from the beginning. Both their pride in their hometown kid and their rage at Jesus come from the same place. Both responses to Jesus and his message are resisting what Jesus is actually saying. Both responses focus on the messenger and resist considering what the content of Jesus’ message might mean for them.
This is, of course, the spot where we uncomfortably identify with the people of Nazareth. Whether we like it or not, it is a very human reaction to resist hearing the hard but needed messages from those that care about us. Whether it is at home, at work, in our neighbourhoods or in church, we know what it is like to balk at the message and focus on the messenger. We know what is like to resist when someone tells us that we need to get things together, to be open to new ideas, to try new ways of being, to find healthier ways to live in community. And like the people of Nazareth we often respond in the same way.
“I don’t need to exercise more!”
“Those people won’t fit in here!”
“We tried that already!”
“What do you know, you are too young, too old, too new, too stuck in the past!”
“It’s too risky!”
“What would people think?”
These are all too often our responses to those around us, calling us to account. All too often our response to the spirit prompting us to new possibilities. All too often our response to the call to be transformed for the better.
And who can blame us?… we are human after all. It is simply human to resist. Just as Adam and Eve resisted the creator by eating of the fruit in the middle of the garden.
And so we too end up often, standing on the edge of cliff, either real or metaphorical, ready to toss the messengers of divine good news into oblivion, because we aren’t ready to hear the message. Because what if what Jesus says is true, and that he is the Messiah. What if God is calling us to a new thing, to new ways of being, to welcome new people and new ideas into our community? What if the Kingdom come near ask that we re-orient ourselves and the way we see the world?
Casting out the messenger is always the safer option.
Yet despite our resistance, God does not abandon us. Jesus does not run, or hide or escape.
Luke does not offer a trivial ending to the story, the way that Jesus deals with the angry mob is significant. Jesus passes through the midst of the people. Jesus stays with the raging, resisting crowd. And Jesus continues about his business. He continues on to cast out demons, to heal and cure many, and most importantly continues announcing the coming Kingdom of God.
And yes, this story of a mob praising the one known as the Messiah in one moment and ready to kill him in the next is familiar. It will not be long before Jesus is driven up another hill, and an angry mob will call for his death again… and that time there be no passing through. Because Jesus’ business will be staying with the rage of the crowd, standing in the midst of murderous example of sinful and selfish humanity. Jesus will be nailed to a cross and cast into oblivion.
But just like in Nazareth, Jesus will still go about his way.
And his way will be three days later to walk out of the empty tomb.
To rise again from the grave.
To meet Mary in the garden.
To appear to the disciples in the locked room.
To walk with others to Emmaus.
Jesus way is to show us, to reveal to a fallen and dying humanity, that God is coming to us with new life.
Despite our resistance, despite our focus on the messenger, despite our murderous rage.
Jesus is the anointed one, the Messiah, the Christ is coming to us with new life.
Coming to the people of Nazareth and coming here to us today.
And in our midst, Jesus will be about the business of Messiah.
Jesus is preaching good news to poor sinners here, opening the scriptures and speaking to us in familiar ways.
Jesus is announcing release to those held captive by sin and death, freedom found in forgiveness for us.
Jesus is giving us sight, allowing us to see that we have been named and claimed in the waters of baptism.
Jesus is proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour, the great abundant feast of bread and wine where we are all given a place at the table and fed for the work of the Kingdom.
And Jesus is doing all of this in the most familiar of places, right here among us as a community of faith. Right here in the midst of our flawed and human tendency to resist.
And Jesus is reminding us again, that God’s promise of salvation is fulfilled today.