Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Home Town Boy Comes Home

What is it like to grow up in a small town and have everyone know you?  Many in Weimar can relate to this because some have never left the town they grew up in while others left for their working years and have returned to retire here.  What is is like to be around people who knew you when you were growing up and have memories about the person you were then but cannot seem to accept you for the person you are now?

Perhaps that is what happened when Jesus went back to Nazareth after being baptized and tested in the wilderness.  Luke 4 recounts the story about Jesus reading from Isaiah 61 during his turn to read in the synagogue in Nazareth.  He stood to read the Isaiah passage and then sat down to talk about it, as was the custom with rabbis in his day.  All of those present watched his intently as he began, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."  With those words, Jesus proclaimed to them that the one whom Isaiah declared 800 years before stood before them.  Jesus was saying that it was he whom Isaiah had predicted would come one day.  Could he be the Messiah?

At first everyone spoke graciously about him.  After all, this was the son of Mary and Joseph.  They had watched him grow up in their village.  They had seen him playing with the other boys and chasing about as children do.  They had watched him as he had grown and perhaps had seen him in the synagogue regularly, as was his custom.  He was Jesus, the boy they all knew who had been gone for a brief period of time but was not back in his village and expected to conform to their expectations of what he should be like.

Suddenly, they did not like what they heard him say.  The words of Isaiah he read were not "fulfilled" in their hearing?  Did he actually think that he was the one that Isaiah had written about so long ago?  Surely not, he is just the son of a carpenter, the boy who belonged to the peasant family that they all knew well.

If that brief statement made them wonder about him, what would his longer explanation do to them?  Jesus went on to explain that God worked miracles among the Gentiles as well as the Jews when he spoke of the stories in the Hebrew Scriptures that told about Elijah and Elisha doing works for the widow of Zaraphath and Namaan the Syrian leper.  It was as if he was telling them that God loved Gentiles as well as Jews and would do the things for them that God had promised to his chosen people, Israel.

Suddenly, their graciousness turned to anger and wrath.  Suddenly, they did not want him in their presence or anywhere for that matter.  They wanted him dead.  So, they led him to a cliff  and were going to throw him off but somehow in the confusion of it all, he escaped their grip and their wrath.  Jesus went on his way, and the angry mob somehow made their way back to the city to tell each other how wrong Jesus was to say that God accepted others outside of their faith.

How is it that people can be so gracious to others when they like what they say and approve of their views but suddenly become an "angry mob" when those people voice views that are not of their liking?  How is it that seemingly rational people can be turned against others simply for not speaking words that are agreeable to them?  It happened to Jesus and it happens to many of us in our lives.

There is a song played on Christian radio stations from the 1970s-80s that said, "Friends are friends forever if the Lord's the Lord of them, and a friend will not say never for the welcome will not end..."  It is a wonderful sentiment but the truth is that for some, friends are friends as long as they agree on everything and if they do not, then the friendship ends.

Rejection can come about as an overt act in which persons demand and tell others what they want them to think and if they do not agree then the relationship is over.  Rejection can also happen as a covert act in which persons simply stop talking to others or recognizing their presence.  The Jews had a phrase for it...he's (or she's) dead to me.  They would simply act as if that person does not exist.

Jesus suffered rejection from the ones who knew him best in his own hometown.  They expected him to be Jesus, the son of Joseph, the boy who learned the trade of being a carpenter from his father.  They did not expect him to be a self-proclaimed fulfillment of ancient scripture.  That made them very uncomfortable, so much so that they wanted him silenced and dead.

How do we react when persons we know speak words that make us uncomfortable?  How do we feel when we read words posted on social media or hear words that come out of mouths that we respect only to change our opinion because of the weight of the words in our minds?  Do we react in anger and want the person silenced?  Do we give that one the benefit of the doubt and attempt to discuss our feelings rationally with them?  Do we respect them despite the weight of their words in our minds and allow them to think and let us think as we wish, knowing that sometimes we have to "agree to disagree" in order to preserve a relationship?

Last week we read from I Corinthians 12 in which Paul told the Early Church that God uses people in a variety of ministries for the good for the Church.  He concludes chapter 12 with the sentence, "And I will show you a still more excellent way."  With that sentence, Chapter 13 begins what we call "the love chapter" of the Bible, read at more weddings than any other scripture passage.  Paul writes about love and its merits and qualities to tell the Church that none of what is done in the Church has value unless the meaning behind it is love.  Work done in a loving way, respecting the feelings and integrity of others, is truly worthy.  Without love, what we have done is worthless.

Jesus' friends and fellow Nazarites could not love him because they hated what he said so much.  His words stung them to the point that they only wanted him out of their sight, for good.  They could not see beyond their anger, prejudice, and fear of the change that God might bring about if Gentiles were given equal access to the God of Israel as they had so they had to silence the speaker of the words.  Once he was gone, all would be good once again.  What a chilling example of human nature...both in the ancient world and still happening in our world every day.

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