This text is used for the Lectionary Year C on January 31, 2016.
The turnaround here is striking. One moment the listeners are in awe of Jesus’ words, the next they are ready to literally throw him off a cliff. Was it something he said? Of course it was, and as both people and preachers of the word, that is something we ought to pay attention to.
We know from earlier in the chapter that Jesus has come from the wilderness in the power of the Spirit. We also know that these listeners first called his words gracious, which could either mean “articulate” or “full of grace.” We’re not told the exact content of his teaching here, but whatever he said, it seems fair to surmise it was well-articulated, Spirit-empowered, grace-infused and originally received as good news.
Good news, until Jesus made it clear that he hadn’t come back home to offer them a special place of privilege in the Kingdom of God. Instead, what would make them special would be that they were less likely to receive what he came to give. In fact, it was probably even worse. Jesus’ allusion to Israel’s past suggests his ministry will be marked by blessings for outsiders and judgement for insiders. After all, neither Elijah nor Elisha were known for hometown healing. The widow Elijah healed was not Jewish. Elisha healed the leader of an enemy army. Several Jewish texts of the time recorded the people crying out for God to pour judgement upon other nations, but Jesus is pointing out that when the great prophets were active it wasn’t Israel who benefited but the people of other tribes and nations. Israel’s God was always rescuing the wrong people, and Jesus intended to follow suit. He would be inclusive in all the wrong ways, from their perspective, and this simply would not do. The people of Nazareth had heard enough. It was time for them to run this guy out of town.
There are several leads the preacher might follow while sermonzing on this passage. These people want Jesus to favor them over everyone, even their closest neighbors. This shouldn’t be too shocking as most of us would prefer God favor us over others, especially neighbors who play fast and loose with our fence line. What happens when the gospel of Jesus sides opposite our personal preferences and agendas? If we don’t know it’s not because it doesn’t happen, but more likely because we refuse it when it does. This story plainly reminds us that the word of God is not always something we want to hear. It may make us sad, angry, frustrated, or worse – it may incite a level of repulsion that makes us want to run Jesus, or at least His messenger, off a cliff. The preacher might ask the people to consider specific places in the gospels where the teachings of Jesus may rub their personal, professional or political sensibilities the wrong way. The people might then be asked to consider why these specific teachings rub them the wrong way. Does their reaction reveal anything about their own spiritual or emotional health? The preacher might also invite the congregation to consider how they will respond when the teachings of Jesus, or anyone else for that matter, rub them the wrong way. Are there helpful rules of engagement one might follow when a difference of opinion arises? Finally, the preacher might wonder with the people how a threat to our tightly held desires and convictions could sometimes be prompted by God as a resource for our growth. In short, how might Jesus’ listeners have benefited from greater self-awareness, deeper personal reflection, better conflict management skills and more openness to God’s sometimes inconvenient work in their lives?
Calling the church to wrestle with these questions could also open the door for a related application of this passage. Namely, when is it time for the preacher to risk sharing a message with their congregation that will be difficult for them to hear? This is a challenge for both preacher and congregation, especially when the preacher is also the congregation’s pastor, because the preacher cannot simply offer a message and then walk away. Is this an opportunity for the pastor to name that tension? This subject in general offers the preacher an opportunity to be vulnerable, to name their fears, to explain why sometimes real, human insecurity keeps them from saying things publicly that Jesus has convicted them about personally. This in and of itself could prompt some deep thought within the congregation about how they will react when the preacher shares a challenging word.
The preacher might also decide to go a step further. This passage could set the stage for speaking to a particularly uncomfortable issue. Jesus’ message of truth challenged his hearers, serving as a disruption to their hopes and assumptions. His teaching here comes on the heels of him reading words from Isaiah about good news for the poor, justice for the oppressed and freedom for captives. Is there a potentially controversial issue within the congregation that needs to be addressed? Is there something going on in the world that the preacher would like the congregation to address? Jesus challenges us here to consider the moments when a church needs their pastor to be prophetic. Jesus also gets run out of town, so tread lightly my friends.
Dr. Jason Edwards
Second Baptist Church, Liberty, MO
Tags: confrontation, prophetic preaching, disruptive truth, conflict