It’s a plot line that it is cliché now. You’ve seen it in hundreds of movies from the time even before there were “talkies”.
The scene is set, the lovers are faced across from each other at the table. One fidgets, the other fingers her glass or moves a cup and says, “I just wish you’d tell me….”
There is more fidgeting, a hem and a haw, or a story is started. “You remember when….” Or “I never told you about…” and suddenly the light bulb goes off for the other person across the table and they say; “Wait, is this about us?” It is a moment of a great shift in the relationship, something is about to be revealed that will change how the characters move forward, and we watch to see what will unfold.
I gave you the “spoiler alert” last week. This is part two of Jesus’ first sermon to the Hometown, and that it doesn’t go very well.
Last week we talked a little bit about the content of Jesus’ sermon, his reading from the Prophet Isaiah about the “The Year of Jubilee”… the year of great leveling where the ownership of land was to be returned, and the jails emptied, and we talked about the sacrifice that would need to be made to make that happen. So, when Jesus says all of this is happening “today” it is a call to his hometown crowd to have them begin to live a life of discipleship, of following him.
That part was challenging enough. But now we get to see the response of the home town to Jesus’ words.
While Jesus’ words are eloquent (all spoke well and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth) there is something about the revelation given that causes the hometown crowd to go from speaking well of him to rage.. the kind of rage that has them hauling him to the brink of a cliff to toss him off.
How does that happen? What brings that about?
So we go back over what Jesus said and ask the question “what was so offensive to them?”
What was so offensive about the proverb, “Doctor, heal yourself?”
What was so angering to them about Jesus telling, of all things, BIBLE STORIES? That’s all he does here you know.
There were no doubt a lot of widows in Israel, but Elijah was sent to the Widow in neighboring Zarapheth.
There were no doubt many Lepers in Israel, but it is Naaman the Syrian that Elisha ends up healing.
These Bible stories are told into the hometown crowd who had some unspoken expectations that because Jesus is “one of theirs” he will be doing the kind of things he’s done in Capernaum now among them now!
And then, like the light bulb that goes off above the star crossed lover, the hometown crowd has a sudden revelation.
“Wait, is this about us?”
Is this story about how you’re NOT going to do those things here, for us?
“Wait, is this story about us?” Is this Bible story about Naaman a sign that we won’t be the recipient of God’s favored blessing, but that God has in mind to reach the outsider?
And then, as is the case so many times we’ve witnessed a scene like this played out, when the lightbulb comes on that this is about “Us” the mood turns dramatically, from sympathy, anticipation, or pensiveness… to rage, anger and indignation.
And we recognize immediately when we see this unfold in a movie or read it in a book that this is a moment that is going to tell us far more about the one listening than the one who is speaking! How that person deals with the disappointment, or with the news that there is “someone else” or that the relationship is going to play out differently than what was anticipated tells one far more about the character listening than about the one who is at the moment telling the truth to them.
“Wait, is this about us?”
This Gospel lesson ends up being about the character of Jesus’ community.
Now, you would have thought that if anyone would have “gotten” Jesus it would have been those who knew him best, the ones who had watched him grow up, but that is not the way it turns out!
Which begs a question: “Do we fare any better?”
We who claim Jesus as our own, do we sometimes find ourselves angered, enraged really as what he has to say to us, or what he calls us to do as his followers?
Are we also ready sometimes to also take Jesus off and “throw him off our proverbial cliff” because we just don’t like what he has to say to us?
It think we may be far more willing to do that than we would like to admit, and – spoiler alert again—if you want verification of that you need look no further than the realm of politics in the current election cycle.
Pick a candidate, on either side of the partisan spectrum, whether it is Donald Trump being stymied at a Presbyterian Church, or Bernie Sanders having to back pedal his views on health care. Ted Cruz spouting about Refugees or Hillary Clinton dogged with decisions.
All across the spectrum, when those who aspire to power run up against the Gospel call to follow Jesus, there is a moment of hesitation, or a moment of rationalization.
Sometimes we don’t recognize the words from their mouth as anything that would ever come from the mouth of a “Christian.”
Other times we find them conveniently dismissing the Gospel call, or misquoting scripture, or simply not knowing how to quote it…. generalities are spoken, not in depth understanding or struggle with it.
Jesus is an all too convenient acquaintance to pull out to appeal to the hometown crowd… but is just as quickly thrown under the campaign bus when an uncomfortable challenge to the candidate’s own views.
I offer this not as a comment on politics, but rather as a comment on the way the Gospel works, and what it will do to you.
The Gospel will make you squirm sometimes, and if it doesn’t, that says more about you as the one hearing the truth spoken than it does about the one who is telling the truth to you.
The same is true for the reading of 1st Corinthians for today. We’re used to hearing that in the context of a wedding where it is a commentary on spousal love, but I had the reader give it an “edge” because in truth Paul wrote it to a cantankerous congregation who couldn’t get along with one another, who were arguing about which one had the “greater” spiritual gifts, and were time and again reticent about making good on a promised offering to the church in Jerusalem. Paul uses the rhetoric of talking about himself, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong; a clanging cymbal….” but really it is a pretty thinly veiled commentary on their own community – what they “sound” like in their arguments and division.
This is written to the Corinthians about the content of their community. It doesn’t matter how much good you are doing, Paul says by using himself as the example, if you don’t show love for one another even and especially in the midst of your disagreements, it is all for nothing! What you do is useless!
“Wait a minute, is this about us?” We might ask of Paul as we hear him say to us,
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
Yes, it is about us! It is about how very much like the people of Nazareth we are! How very much like the people of Corinth we are! How very much like Jesus’ own disciples were in Gethsemane, or Peter was as he stood by the fireside when questioned as Jesus is undergoing trial and persecution and exclaims “I did not know him!”
Yes, more often than not we are all too ready to throw Jesus off the cliff when he calls us to action on behalf of others!
We are to welcome to the stranger, care for the widow, the orphan, the sojourner; that is the Gospel mandate in our sacred scriptures… but we have to keep our borders secure, and our streets safe, and the terrorist out…..so zoom!… off the cliff Jesus goes!
More often than not we are all too ready to throw Jesus off the cliff when he calls us to love one another. If I had my way I’d kick a few people out of the congregation, or a few people out of congress, or surely Jesus didn’t mean I had to like or get along with the likes of that person…. So Zoom … off the cliff Jesus goes!
We are all too ready to throw Jesus off when it comes to politics, or personal choices, or activities. “He’d understand my actions, after all, he’s one of us!”
But here is the thing, the miracle really in the story, … with our anger and our shock and our rage we’re ready to take Jesus right to the edge. That is what the character of our community is.
But look at what Jesus chooses to do when pushed right to the edge.
“But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” Luke records. Which is to say that rather than running away, or abandoning, or turning aside to leave us behind, Jesus walks right through us….to show us a better way to go.
Now is the moment of truth, and this will say more about the character of our community than Jesus at this moment…do we stand here all ashamed, hurt, confused, still raging?
Or do we turn and follow a love like that?
What we do in the moment of disappoint with Jesus, when he’s clearly not going to do what we’d like him to do, expect him to do, says much more about who WE are than about who HE is.
“Wait, is this about us?”
Yes, yes it is.
It is about what Jesus, what love does even when we show our ugly side, and it is about what we will do next now that we watch Jesus walk through our midst, once again.
For you see, he’s on his way to Calvary for everyone, even and especially the very ones who would throw him under the bus. Amen.