Our gospel today is the second half of the account of Jesus in his hometown. Last Sunday Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah promising there would come an anointed one filled with the Spirit who would heal, restore, set free, and declare a year acceptable to the Lord. Jesus proclaimed the Word and then simply told everyone. “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Talk about your “drop the mic” moment.
At first the people are excited about the possibilities. They had heard the stories of his power and miracles. And if he did all that for others, imagine what he would do for his own hometown. He is one of their own, right? Pretty quickly, Jesus puts a damper on their parade. He reminds them of two stories. One was about the prophet Elijah. When there was drought and famine in Israel, Elijah was sent to the gentile lands to a widow in Zarephath. When there were lepers in Israel, Elisha cured a gentile. And not only that, but the general of our enemies, the Assyrians. In a none-too-subtle way Jesus makes clear the blessings of God are for more than the hometown, Galilee, or Israel. The blessings of God are for all people.
And that went over like a lead balloon. In a flash his neighbors and friends were filled with a murderous rage. “Who does he think he is! Imagine him trying to tell us that God, our God, bestows grace freely on those other people…that boy ain’t no prophet, he’s a troublemaker… let’s toss him off the hill.” Jesus is facing exactly what God told the prophet Jeremiah in the first reading: tell people of God’s plans and you will talk into a maelstrom of resentment and resistance. The people of Jerusalem will toss Jeremiah down a well and leave him to die.
It is the problem of narrow vision. The very idea that God would bestow his grace so freely on whoever he will – especially those other people. The folks in Nazareth could not process a vision of the world and the future Isaiah promised in which all peoples of the world would turn to God, responding to his mercy and grace.. The prophet Jonah couldn’t deal with God’s love being offered to the Assyrian enemies. He ran away, got swallowed by a whale, reluctantly went to Nineveh, told them to repent but he only used 5 words (keep it short and maybe they will ignore the warning), and then massively brooded when they repented. The Spirit of the Lord was there available to Nazareth and Jonah. They chose anger and brooding instead. “Do not let anger upset your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.” (Ecc 7:9)
Anger, brooding – what’s that all about? Who among us has not been angered about something and then won’t/can’t let it go – and we brood on it as it repeatedly comes to mind. Then we keep it bottled up inside. It grows into a silent, fuming monster when you think how people could be so wrong-headed. Or maybe someone has done you wrong, is spreading rumors about you, dismissing you, ignoring you…and the list goes on…all adding fuel to the fire. And it leaks out, maybe explodes out into your family and loved ones. So much for “Love is patient, love is kind… it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interest, it is not quick tempered, it does not brood over injury.” (1 Cor 12:3-4). Post explosion, who looks like a fool at that moment?
We are left with “I know I should not let it bother me, but….” and we feel foolish. Later on, we think, “What was all that about?” It is as though we hardly know ourselves and we seem so far away from who we are called to be. We know we are called to be loving people but we look over our shoulder and shudder. All of this weaves and pours through our already complicated lives. Sound familiar?
The love of God for all ran headlong into the expectation that Jesus would save the best for the hometown. The call to be the light of Christ to others smacks into the idea that others are wrong-headed or past redemption. The call to be a loving and forgiving person confronts the reality of our anger and brooding. We are from Nazareth, we are Jonah. I wonder if the people in Nazareth later thought about what happened. Did they regret it? Did they give it another thought? Did they not want the future Isaiah promised, the blind able to see, the lame walk, and prisoners set free? Or was it all just dismissed with “who does that Jesus think he is?” Of course, I could ask similar questions to all of us here.
On every wedding day we hear about love that is patient, kind, not rude, not quick tempered. That’s hope and aspiration. And there is the challenge: embracing the Love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” especially when we are confronted with what infuriates us, puts us into a slow boil, a Jonah moment, we can’t let go. When we want to toss the other off the hill or down a deep dark well. When we are about to become a person from Nazareth who looks into the face and words of Jesus – and just can’t get past ourselves, can’t get out of our own way.
In such moments that will come into your life this week, find a way to pause and “bear all things…endure all things.” Make room for the Spirit of the Lord to help you regret and rethink your reaction. Then practice it, make it your habit. Let it form you into the person you are called to be for the love of Christ.
“Do not let anger upset your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.” (Ecc 7:9). Amen.