The Holy Gospel According To St. Luke, the 4th Chapter
Then Jesus began to say to all in the synagogue in Nazareth, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ ” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophetElisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
There are two ways to get stoned. STOP. Let’s stay focused. We’re not in Colorado. SO, if someone is going to be stoned TO DEATH, with EARTH-TYPE stones, you can either hold the person still and throw the rocks at them OR you can keep the rocks still and throw the person at the rocks. The crowd in today’s Gospel, by the end of the story, were focused on the second method. They were pushing Jesus to the edge of a cliff, intent on throwing him at the rocks at 32 feet per second squared. The question is, what made these folks from Nazareth, so angry that they went from being “amazed” one minute, to wanting to kill him just a couple of verses later?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard of Nazareth my whole life, so I always assumed it must be some kind of big, old city. But the reality is that Nazareth was a big, old city in the same way New Limerick, New Sweden and Newburg are big "new" cities here in Maine. Hallowell, it turns out, would be a sprawling, out of control, urban jungle compared to Nazareth. So Nazareth was tiny AND Nazareth was out in the middle of nowhere AND it was surrounded by all sorts of non-Jewish, foreign type people AND to add insult in injury Nazareth had a reputation. Remember when Philip, one of Jesus’s first disciples, went to tell his friend Nathanial about this guy, Jesus of Nazareth… remember Nathanial’s first reaction? “Nazareth!? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
So Nazareth was a small, out in the boondocks, isolated, keep to themselves, backwards Jewish town with a pretty checkered reputation. It was the kind of town where everybody can and does know everybody. So they knew Jesus and they had for twenty years. Jesus was their hometown boy! So what was it that made this crowd of people, who knew Jesus better than anybody else on earth, go from singing the praises of their hometown hero to homicidal?
I think two things happened that sent the crowd over the edge, so to speak. First, he told them those two stories about how God had worked in the past. He told them the story of how, during a horrible drought and famine, God didn’t send Elijah the prophet to any of the home town people, but sent Elijah and the miracle of an oil jug and a flour jar that never went empty to some non-Jewish, foreign woman! Then he told them that other story of when, even though there were tons of home town type folks with leprosy in Israel, God chose to cure Naaman… a SYRIAN... God, caring about a Syrian... what was God thinking!
I think the SECOND thing that happened was that in the first part of this story we read last week, Jesus came to town and unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, sight for the blind, the oppressed set free and the year of the Lord’s favor.” THIS, Jesus told them had been fulfilled in their hearing.
You see, I think it was his own hometown friends and neighbors who had their blindness suddenly lifted. Sight for THEIR blindness had been restored in their hearing and with that new sight, they could see that those two stories meant that all the good stuff… all the miracles and signs Jesus had done out there for THOSE people, weren’t going to happen here for the people who had known him the longest.
They could see that Jesus didn’t have a better, more powerful, more grace-filled set of miracles, signs and wonders hidden in his robe pocket, saved up for the home town crowd! NO, they saw… REALLY saw... that Jesus had given it ALL away... to THOSE people… those Samaritans, sinners, tax collectors and even to that stinking Roman soldier’s kid, for God’s sake! He didn’t have ANYTHING special for them! He had lavished it all on THEIR poor and on THEIR prisoners and on who knows what kind of the world’s refuse! He had given away a year of the Lord’s favor to the likes of Syrians… SYRIANS for God’s sake... and who knows who else from who knows where! People who should really just go back to where they came from because JESUS WAS THEIRS! Jesus didn’t belong to all those faithless foreigners! Jesus belonged to THEM! But apparently Jesus had forgotten where he came from and had just GIVEN it all away.
Their sight had been restored alright and what they could see when their eyes were opened was something they hated with a white hot passion! Jesus had given God’s love and God’s grace and God’s favor to OTHERS and left all of them with NOTHING! Nothing but Joseph’s boy standing there with empty pockets! Just Jesus. He had miracles and wonders for THOSE people, but it was just Jesus empty handed for the home town crowd! They felt like they had been cheated and so they went to throw him out of town the fastest way they could… right over the cliff.
So that’s what they saw. Now the question is, do you see what they didn’t? They saw a part of the picture with their new, opened eyes, but they still missed something… the most important something actually. You see, Jesus did give away all those miracles, signs, healings and feedings. Their mistake was that they thought that Jesus had given EVERYTHING away to those “others”… those “foreigners”… those “people of other faiths” and “people of no faith at all” and that standing there with empty pockets, Jesus had NOTHING left for them… the home town boy with none of those shiny presents for his home town family and friends. But they missed it. Literally standing right there in front of their faces, they missed it.
It’s true they didn’t get water turned into wine, walking on water or feeding five thousand. It’s true they didn’t see the dead raised, the lame walking or the deaf hearing. All they got was Jesus and they missed it. They were looking for PRESENTS but instead they got Jesus's PRESENCE and in that they had EVERYTHING! Jesus IS everything! You and I… we have that same gift! Do you see it? Jesus's presence. We go around and around every week saying “The Body of Christ, given for you!” so that we all might see it… that we too have EVERYTHING! We have Jesus! We may not get the miracles and signs the way we’d love to see. We may not get water turned into wine at our weddings, but each week, we get Jesus… each week we get everything… EVERYTHING… God with us... all we need and infinitely more!
With Jesus… we have EVERYTHING... with Jesus that prophecy has been fulfilled in our presence too... we have been freed from the prison of scarcity and selfishness to join with Jesus in sharing God’s grace and love with those beyond our home town… with foreigners, captives, prisoners, refugees and people of every color and faith or no faith at all. Because we have Jesus… because we have EVERYTHING... we have more than enough.
In Jesus's presence, our eyes are open. We can see God’s love and God’s grace showering down beyond every boarder, label and box people build and defend. In Jesus's presence the captives have been set free! In Jesus's presence WE are free to slip through the angry, hate filled crowds that fume and foam in our world... we are free to slip through with Jesus and share God's infinite and unconditional love and grace with all the world. We have EVERYTHING... we have Jesus. Amen.