This morning I’m reading Luke chapter 4. Specifically, the passage detailing the rejection of Jesus in His home synagogue in Nazareth.
It’s an interesting passage, Luke 4:14-30. Because it reveals the inherent fickleness of human praise. Even praise of the Son of God among His own people. But it also can teach us that instances of human rage are often responses to a deeper truth we are currently hiding from.
“Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.”
Luke 4:14-15 (NRSV)
Note, earlier in this chapter in Luke , Jesus endures 40 days of temptation by the devil. He passes every test, and the devil departs from Him (verse 13). So, Jesus officially begins His earthly ministry here. And He starts with teaching in the local synagogues, finally making His way to teaching in the synagogue where He was brought up as a child.
So far so good. Everyone likes what He has to say. Even in Nazareth, where in verse 22 we read that everyone spoke highly of Him and His “gracious words”.
But… something goes very wrong between verse 22 and 28.
Let’s back up a bit. What message did Jesus bring to Nazareth that was initially so well received in His synagogue?
“and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.'”
Well, nothing but good news here. I’d be all about hearing this in church on Sunday.
And then Jesus goes on:
“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
That seems like an over reaction, does it not? It’s not like Jesus is saying anything His audience doesn’t already know… But, what we as Christians today might miss here is what Jesus meant. Jesus is making important parallels– scathing parallels. After reading Isaiah 61, and proclaiming Himself as its fulfillment, Jesus now recounts past instances of Divine Judgment meted out against Israel. As if to say, sure, my words tickle your ears. But, in order to see the year of the Lord’s favor, you will have to honor and accept me for who I am– the Son of God– and see yourselves for what you are–poor, blind, captive sinners. I know that’s not gonna happen here, so let’s just cut to the chase.
What if we substituted church for synagogue, and Nazareth for the USA?
What if, instead of His home synagogue, Jesus visits an American Christian church full of cradle followers?
How many life-long church attendees, doing their best to live Biblical lives, would cringe at Jesus’ implication that they were all poor, spiritually blind, and captive sinners–under God’s Judgment– as long as their lifelong familiarity with the stories about Jesus prevented them from truly knowing Him as the Son of God?
Well, I imagine there would be more than a few instances of rage among congregants…
Ok, back to our passage in Luke:
“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.”
If you aren’t well versed in ancient punishment of Jewish heretics, driving someone out of the town and leading them to an edge of a cliff so that they might be thrown off to their death upon the rocks below? A very creative way of affecting ritualistic stoning.
Clearly, Jesus elicits a strong response among devoutly religious folk. And, as much as His Spirit filled words may enrage our egos, Jesus isn’t just going to go away. But, if we reject Him, He will pass through our angry mob and be on His way.
I’ve been in a lot of different churches in my lifetime, and I’ve seen many parallels to this passage play out. As someone that strives to know Christ, I often am left scratching my head at those that merely know stuff about Him.
Which is why the reaction of the synagogue at Nazareth says much about why they are under Divine judgment.
Here’s the thing– to truly know Him requires that we see the full extent of our own sinfulness. It is not fun. Medieval Christian mystics had a name for the painful spiritual process they experienced as beginners along the narrow path: purgation. It is an important step in reclaiming the spiritual humility before God that is fitting to human beings. Because it’s the only sincere response one can muster after having your own propensity for sin paraded before you.
Someone already on that path to authentic humility would not argue with Jesus’ teaching above. There would be no hearty Amens– no time wasted on futile projection of our own fallen state onto others. There wouldn’t be any rage… but maybe intense sorrow.
More to the point: where religious folk tend to split God’s Justice from His Mercy, those that are coming to truly know Him in the depths of their souls, begin to see them as one. Yes, I deserve God’s wrath. I too have tried to push Him over a cliff in order to silence my inner turmoil! To come out of hiding and admit that fact, I realize I’m already held in His Mercy. Would God be a Just God if He allowed me to continue in my hidden, inward rejection of Him and miss out on Who He Truly Is? To stand back and allow me to reject the very ground of my being would not be merciful, by any stretch of the imagination.
I’d like to introduce a new concept to those that have followed with me thus far– God is JustMerciful. He is Just in unrelenting in drawing us into the right relationship with Him. He can and will not accept anything less! That is why He is merciful. We need the right relationship with Him, because the Eternal spark of our being cannot continue to exist outside of it. It is destined to mortality unless aligned with true Immortality. Fully contingent upon the Uncontingent.
The next time some random human being drives you to rage, don’t punish them. Don’t cast them off as a heretic. Such a welling up of our rage speaks to an inner turmoil suddenly brought to the surface. Ask yourself, Whom is trying to speak to me through this person, and what is He trying to tell me?
(Even and especially if that someone is Donald Trump. I may be speaking here from experience ;D)