Scripture: Luke 4:21-30
(By Robin Murray, with pieces from Carol Prochaska’s intended sermon for the day.)
Wait, what was that… that Peter just read to us? The people in his hometown tried to throw Jesus off a cliff? Yep, it’s true. Those hometown folks were, as one translation says, “filled with rage”. The Greek word for rage comes from the root “to burn, to be inflamed.” They were so ticked off that they dragged Jesus out of town with the intent to do him in!
This is their Jesus! This is the Jesus they’ve known all their lives. What a sad ending to this reunion scene. At first, they were impressed, marvelling at Jesus’ eloquent words. However, when Jesus chooses to speak upsetting words, they want him gone. What did he say that upset them so much? That he wasn’t there to make them feel good.
They all had heard about the miracles he had performed elsewhere and so he anticipates their demand that he do the same for them saying “And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'” (Prove it. Prove you are who you say you are.) And then Jesus reminds them that prophets never gain true acceptance in their hometown.
From their own scriptures, Jesus recounts the works of two of their prophets: Elijah who was sent to a woman, a widow, a foreigner and Elisha who healed a man who was a leper and also a foreigner. But wait, isn’t this their Jesus? Doesn’t he belong to them? Shouldn’t they come first ahead of everyone else? And where does he get off quoting their own sacred scriptures to explain why this is not true?
What use are you, Jesus, if you don’t serve me and give me what I think I deserve? What use are you if you don’t make me feel like I’m better than everyone else is?
In the sermon Carol intended to preach today, she said, “Their Jesus is our Jesus, the Jesus we’ve come to know through familiar Bible stories. We know that Jesus is God’s Love in human form. We know that Jesus reveals God’s love in words and actions. Our knowledge is somewhat like a supportive well-worn recliner that has over time adjusted to the shape of our body; it fits us just right. (Or I would add for the younger folks who don’t do as much sitting as some of the rest of us, like that perfectly broken in pair of shoes that are so comfortable, you hope they never wear out.) And isn’t that the love we expect to see revealed in Jesus – a love that is in some way is shaped to fit us. I think we can agree this is so.
“And! Divine love, the love Jesus reveals is also infinitely more. This love is Bigger than the biggest we can imagine. Can we ever fully comprehend this Bigger-than-Big Divine Love? As the apostle, Paul says, “Our knowledge is imperfect.” And furthermore, to our chagrin, our knowledge will be imperfect for as long as we have breath. Thus, our God knowledge may be quite small. How we experience God and God in Jesus and will always be evolving,” Carol says.
Jesus challenges the people in his hometown as he challenges us today: what does it mean to love big? To love deeply and unconditionally as God does? Is it really love if we only offer kindness to those who benefit ourselves and meet our expectations, but are ready to throw them off the cliff as soon as they disappoint? What if it is God who disappoints us? And how do we push past that need to feel like the special ones, the ones that Jesus surely loves the best over everyone else?
This past week, I started listening to a podcast called “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text,” – a great podcast for adults like me who have joyfully read and re-read that kids series, the Harry Potter books. Anyway, one of the commentators in the podcast tells a story of a nun he met who advocated that whenever you speak of another person, you add the words “just like me” to the end of what you say. So, if you say, “I just love her. She’s so smart and funny…” you add the phrase, “just like me” to the end. But if you say, “oh I can’t stand that man, he’s so arrogant and self-centred” you add “just like me.” Try it. The experience in both the positive and negative case is quite humbling. It’s a real exercise in loving others and ourselves.
And how about the other part of Jesus’ well-known commandment, the loving God part? Sometimes, to love big and to see big love, we have to let go of our imperfect knowledge and get out of our comfy recliner or kick off those comfy shoes. Yes, our imperfect understanding is still understanding, and that is good. But God’s love is so much bigger. And what’s more, God is constantly revealing more and more of it to us. Carol says that “perhaps in our Gospel reading, Jesus was giving his hometown an opportunity to rethink their lives and their God. In their refusal to do this they may have missed out on something Jesus was lovingly revealing.”
Let us do our best not to make the same mistake as the people of Nazareth and let Jesus pass through the midst of us and go on his way because we want God to meet our expectations, rather than looking for how we might meet God. Let us open our hearts to what God might be revealing, even if it makes us uncomfortable. Let us invite Jesus in and see what adventure he takes us on. God’s love can’t be contained so that it will conform to our limited understanding. Try as we might, it just won’t. Let’s look for that big love in our own lives and in our lives together, see how much of it we can understand. See how much of it we can experience. See how much of it we can share with others! Let’s live into the big love that is God.
May it be so.