Sunday, February 7, 2016 10:00 am ·  0 Comments
Jesus leaves town and performs some miracles in Capernaum, then comes back as a guest preacher.
In Jesus’ first sermon in his hometown, he preaches good news to the poor, liberty to the imprisoned, sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and he proclaims the year of God’s favour.
Then the people react. Luke 4: 21-30
From the text itself, what do we know about the characteristics of the people in the synagogue at Nazareth? They are a congregation of his friends and neighbours, who have heard about what he did. And they are of one mind.
Today we hear how the folk in the pews reacted: All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
They saw him as bearing grace. And that grace, they assumed, would be available to them.
The crowd wants Jesus to do the same miracles in Nazareth that he did in Capernaum. There may be some rivalry between the towns, but most likely the people of Nazareth feel that the hometown son should show them special favour.
But Jesus wasn’t about to share that grace with them, and he told them so.
He wants them to see the other side — ‘Who do I mean when I say let the oppressed go free?’ he asks.
I’m intrigued that the whole community acted as one. I must say, in my experience most communities don’t ever act as one.
I am reminded about a worship survey I carried out early in my ministry. I asked people to rate some of our hymns: one person threatened to leave the church if we sang ‘The Lord of the Dance’ one more time. Another person wrote that she would leave the church if we didn’t sing it more often!
I learned that whatever we did in worship, about one third of the people loved it, one third disliked it, and one third were somewhere in between. I suspect a lot of surveys produce similar results.
But in this instance, the congregation was of one mind: they loved him when they loved him … and they hated him when they hated him.
They were homogeneous.
It’s as if Jesus understood this and when everyone was saying ‘great job,’ he threw a spanner in the works on purpose.
And the spanner in the works? Jesus points out that in a famine, when there were many widows in Israel starving, Elijah only came to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon, and when there were many lepers in Israel, it was only Naaman of Syria who was healed by Elisha.
When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. Not performing a miracle is more unlikely and more unacceptable to the people than performing one. They got up, drove him out of the town, to the Hill of Precipitation near their town, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.
So one minute, they were all speaking well of him and were amazed at his gracious words, and the next moment they were all enraged and dragged him to the top of a hill to throw him to his death.
Such a dramatic shift.
Can we put ourselves in the place of this congregation? Certainly we can see ourselves applauding Jesus’ words, but can we see ourselves doing something as horrible as wanting to attack Jesus for his words? It seems unlikely.
But I am reminded of a sociology course I took on deviant behaviour.
I learned that mobs act as one, even though the individuals would not be provoked to violence on their own. I hope I could withstand the force of a mob, but I’m not sure. My grandmother was trampled by a crowd celebrating the end of the first world war. For the rest of her life two lines of gravel embedded deep in the skin of her face reminded us all of the destructive power of a mob.
Human beings have it in us to act badly in crowds. And Jesus makes the point that mobs are not what God has in mind for the human community. Homogeneity can be rather dangerous, as Jesus discovered on that hilltop.
Today’s society has become much more homogenous than at other times in history.There is even a word for wanting what other people want: memesis. We want what everyone else has, we want everyone to agree with us.
The eugenics movement in the first third of the 20th century was a frightening attempt to purge society of difference.
I went back and forth between Canada and the UK a fair bit when I was a kid. When I was in school in Scotland, being Canadian was unique, and I felt really honoured. But having a Scottish accent in Canada set me apart, in not such a good way. I became very good at losing my accent. When my English mother heard people describing folk as being weird or even eccentric in Canada, she would say reassuringly, ‘Oh that’s English’ — hoping that would make them acceptable. Both of us recognised that there was a narrower view here of how much difference was acceptable.
In their new book, “In a Different Key”, about the history of autism, John Donvan and Caren Zucker posit that autism is not a new phenomenon. In 15th- century Russia, for example, some autistic people were believed to be “holy fools,” touched by God, and this divine connection conferred protected status. In the early 1900s in North America, however, society largely aimed to purge rather than protect people they decided were “mentally defective”. Articles published at the time in the Journal of American Psychiatry suggested institutionalization, sterilization and mercy killing.
This very characteristic of uniformity of reaction is what Jesus walks away from.
Homogeneity is not what God means by healthy community. Jesus put himself in danger to force them to think outside of their comfort zone. He practically invented, “outside of the comfort zone” — doing the unexpected throughout his ministry.
The brave suffering widow at Zarepath, the suffering Syrian — they were necessary to the wholeness of community. The needs of the marginalized, the stranger, the foreigner were essential to the health of the community.
When Jesus encounters people whose reality is suffering, he throws a healing spanner in the works.
The people of Nazareth are surprised to learn that God loves people they don’t. This is the first time his community realizes that Jesus’ good news is not always what they want to hear.
In his hometown, he says, ‘Guess what? Who I am for is not just you, I’m for the Syrian too.
The coming of God in the flesh becomes an intrusion into our safe place: it is judgement as well as grace.
The marginalised need to be returned to community for community to be whole. We aren’t whole on our own. We aren’t whole if we define community only as those like us — even though we feel most safe, most secure, most comfortable with people who are like us.
God is not just my God or your God. God is God of everyone in the world. God loves every person in the world as much as God loves us.