Psalm 107:1-9, Luke 4:14-30
February 22, 2015
This is a story that comes from the very beginning days of Jesus’ ministry. Here we find him speaking in his home town synagogue in Nazareth. And at the time of this story, there already seems to have been a “buzz” about him. This was more than just that it was “his turn to read.” (He wasn’t just the “lay reader” for that Sabbath!) In fact, it says just before this, “Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, and a report concerning him went out through all the surrounding country, And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all.” So I have to think, when he came to his home synagogue, there was an air of expectation.
As our story begins, he stood up to read. They handed him the scroll of the Prophet Isaiah. And he opened it and found chapter 61. Because apparently their lay readers got to pick their own scriptures!! (Don’t get any ideas!) In chapter 61 Jesus read these words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Now, those were important words to those people! They read them many times, longing for the Messiah to which they pointed! But then Jesus said something amazing! He said “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Can you just imagine? The scripture was fulfilled – in him? I’m sure at first they couldn’t believe it! “Really Jesus? Those words are about you?”
It’s hard for us to put ourselves in the place of those listening that day. What would we say if one of our own people said such a thing? Again, we know who Jesus was. They didn’t! But they seemed to accept it – at first. They were amazed – at first! But then we have to contrast that to the end of this story. There was this little exchange, some additional words about his importance and their acceptance, and before we know it, the people went from being enamored with Jesus, to being ready to throw him off of a cliff!
As readers, we have a hard time making that transition, don’t we? Well, one of the reasons I like this story is that I think it’s indicative of the whole story of Jesus, and the way people reacted to him. At first, people were enamored with him. But only as long as he conformed to their expectations. Eventually, the things he said, and (as we’re thinking about during our Lenten Services) the miracles he did, turned people against him. That’s what I want us to see today.
Maybe it will help us to see that better if we think about the last miracle Jesus did. Do you know what that was? (It was the Raising of Lazarus. Which we find only in John’s Gospel, by-the-way.) All of that growing opposition he experienced during his ministry, built up to the time when he raised Lazarus from the dead! And so, as amazing as that was, it was the “final straw” for those who opposed him. It was the last stage in that progression of how people turned against him. And that progression started right here in the synagogue in Nazareth.
Think about that. It began with the people saying, “This is great!” “We like this guy!” “Isn’t he a wonderful speaker?!” “Home town boy does good!” But then! “Hey, wait a minute! We’re not so crazy about ‘some of the things’ he’s saying…” Then, fast-forward through his ministry and we find that the resurrection of Lazarus was the culmination of all of that. In the end, he did this amazing thing, a miracle that should have proven once and for all who he was, and should have won everyone to his cause. And their reaction was, “Yes! He did this impossible thing!” “We can’t deny that!” “But we’ve got to stop him!”
The irony of that is incredible! It’s hard for us to grasp! Just the irony of the Messiah being rejected by the very people had awaited him for hundreds of years, is ironic enough. But if you think about it, here he was doing the very things the Messiah was expected to do, he was fulfilling scripture, and some couldn’t believe him.
Do you remember what Jesus said to the disciples of John? They came to him asking (on John’s behalf) “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Even John the Baptist was having his time of doubts! Do you remember what Jesus said? He didn’t say “Yep! That’s me!” “I’m the guy!” No! His answer was, “Go and tell John what you hear and see. The blind receive their sight and the lame walk. Lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear. The dead are raised, and the poor have good news preached to them.” (Matthew 11:4-6)
In other words, “I’m doing what the Messiah was expected to do. I’m doing things right out of Isaiah 61!” So, if it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it probably is… a duck! (And don’t I know that! Huh?) Jesus was fulfilling the scriptures. He was doing the messianic things! But then there’s a further bit of irony. Because at the end of the words he says to John’s disciples, he gives them this little statement.” “And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.”
That’s the problem, isn’t it! They did take offense at him! They took offense even at those miraculous things he did. They took offense even at the things their scriptures said the Messiah would do – that he did! They took offense because, he was telling them what they didn’t want to hear! He was doing what the Messiah was expected to do, but not what they expected him to do! That’s what was happening in the synagogue in Nazareth. Here was scripture being fulfilled before their eyes! Yet they were ready to toss him off of a cliff!
So then, the question we must ask ourselves is this. Does that ever happen to us? Do we ever take offense at Jesus? Do we ever refuse to hear what he says, because it’s something we don’t want to hear? I hope you understand that this is challenging stuff! This is hard stuff for us to hear – just like it was for those people then.
Well, this is part of what Lent is about. It’s about hearing some things we might rather not hear. It’s about understanding Jesus based on his terms, not ours. It’s about judging our lives against his standards, not our own. Because if you think about it, we’re pretty good at setting our own standards, aren’t we? But when we are called to see things from a different perspective, maybe we too would be more likely to throw someone off of a cliff!
So, that’s what I want you to think about today. I want you to think about Jesus preaching in his home synagogue. I want you to think about all these people listening to him, people who had watched him grow up. Now there was a buzz going on about him. And it was hard for them to know what to think. And sometimes it’s hard for us to know what to think, too.
So, in invite you to spend time in prayer this Lenten season. Practice setting aside your expectations and understandings and asking God to speak to you on his terms! Choose to seek his will above your own. Strive to be more “in tune” with his Spirit.
And may his blessing be on all of us, as we seek to be his people!
Eternal God, you know us better than we know ourselves. Yet still, we insist on our own way of thinking and seeing things. It’s hard for us to break out of that. Help us, through the power of your spirit, to seek your ways this Lenten season. Help us to know you are leading us. Show us where we can grow in our faith, and in our understanding of Jesus and of his kingdom. For this we pray in his name, Amen.