“The old home town acts the same…”

Luke 4:21-30

Then he began to say to them, “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 prophet Elisha, 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.

Whenever I read the gospels I have in the left back corner of my mind a monitor for the dreadful public relations and marketing gaffes that Jesus makes in his ministry.
Today’s reading is no exception.
Ask yourself, how does he mismanage the congregation so badly that he goes from, “ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth” and ends up with, “ …all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town,…”?

And Jesus does this all himself.
First he puts words in people’s mouth, by assuming that they are going to quote a proverb to him and then that they will demand miracles.
Next he responds to them based on what he assumes they were going to say, and tells a story about Elijah that ends up condemning them for their exclusivity and suggests that, like Naaman, others will be healed and not them.
No wonder the congregation were furious!

I can only suppose that Jesus read the non-verbals, and intuited the sub-themes in the synagogue dynamic that sabbath.
Perhaps he, like all of us who wax hysterical about “the old home town” and the nostalgia of how things aren’t the same, (They never were!) found that neither he, nor we, can ever go back.

“Sentimentality is repressed brutality” said Freud.  Perhaps Jesus sensed the schmaltz in the cutesy pooh, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” maybe there was an unrecorded, “Gee but you’ve grown” thrown in?  Whatever it was, Jesus was not about to milk the marketing opportunity or play the P.R. violin.

He knew this town.  He had grown up with its narrowness.

He remembered how they had treated his mother and whispered about his “virgin” birth.  They wanted to group her with the prostitutes who lived on the edge of town.

He had seen how Samaritans passing through had been rejected, and how the tax-collectors were despised.
Of all people he could assume. After all he was one of them.

But he had walked away.

That’s the thing about this Gospel.  It just won’t let you rest at home.

Once you get it, you become marginalised like him. Suddenly, yet imperceptibly his truth, his inclusivity, his compassion, his humility become yours and you can never go back.

Once we have seen what Jesus sees and become what Jesus is, we don’t fit back at the school reunion and under the yellow ribboned, old oak tree. Going home is a nightmare just like Nazareth was for him.

So much for the “family values” lobby.  Jesus has just puked over the picket fence!

We all have to leave home and never return.  It’s the Jesus way.

Why Demons sleep through sermons.

Mark 1:21-28

The Worshiper with an Unclean Spirit

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

There is a tension that preachers live with constantly.  On one hand we are called to proclaim the truth of the Unconditional Acceptance of Jesus, yet at the same time that very generosity, embodied in the Good News, evokes dark opposition from the destructive forces in the human spirit that seem to prefer bondage and oppression to the offered liberation and freedom.

In almost every age of its history the church has preferred, for the sake of governance and compliance, to hold back on preaching Liberty, Good News, and the Recovery of sight. Thus it seldom proclaims the year of the Lord’s favour.
The resultant religious practice, for it can scarcely be called Christianity, has been a rule bound, ritual embalmed, rote rehearsal of cosy and folksy tradition that has, as its main purpose, the studied avoidance of anything that may disturb the status quo.

Such compliance to convention and in the worst sense of the word, conservatism, has often, as was the case in Apartheid South Africa, included the collaboration with whatever political ideology was in power.  The church, the synagogue, the temple, become bland and banal and also indistinguishable from the surrounding culture and context.

Don’t get me wrong, it is a comfortable place for prophets, preachers and proclaimers to live.   People embrace you, encourage you, support you professionally and economically, because you are saying what they want and like to hear.  I like to live at peace and to live well.

It is however, not the way of Jesus.

Watching the master prophet, proclaimer and preacher of the Good News of God’s Unconditional Acceptance to All, we see the conundrum at work.

On the one hand people sense the difference. They speak of such proclamation as “a breath of fresh air”. They will say modern day equivalents of, “You teach with authority, not like the Scribes.” ; something along the lines of, “Our last preacher never told us that!”

Yet, despite the attraction of the Good News, such proclamation will inevitably and simultaneously, evoke demonic reprisals.

My detective mind is tickled to speculate what office the man, possessed by the unclean spirit, held in the Capernaum synagogue? Was he the Treasurer? The Choir Director? The Youth Pastor? Was he the Senior Steward?
My experience of Good News preaching is that sooner or later, preaching the Unconditional Acceptance of Jesus will rile someone in the status quo power structure enough, for the demonic in them to manifest.

It is essential at these moments of oppositional confrontation, that we have the same prayer shaped insight of Jesus, that will enable us to separate the darkness of the opponent’s behaviour from their essential nature in God. Only if we can do that will we, as those being attacked, be able to take authority over the darkness whilst still preserving the underlying health and dignity of the temporarily possessed ones.

Hearing truth makes us all angry at some point. That is unavoidable.

The freedom that is that truth’s gift to us may, however, first require the exorcism of our fearful demons that are so resistant to the new that Jesus wants to bring us.

Have you “herd”? – Epiphany 4

Luke 4:21-30
Then he began to say to them, “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 prophet Elisha, 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.

Last week we considered the nine word one-liner sermon that Jesus gave as he sat down after reading from the scroll of Isaiah, in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. This week’s Gospel reading opens with those nine words and continues…
‘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?”’
So Jesus had clearly finished the formal exposition from the words.
The narrative now continues with Jesus speaking as if he knew what the people were thinking.

It is a common homiletic device. As a Methodist I was weaned on it as John Wesley used it frequently. The preacher verbalizes what they think the audience is thinking. In this case and often for Wesley, it takes the form of objections that may be in the mind of the hearer. “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.’”

Jesus then makes a statement that , “…no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town”, and goes on to illustrate his point by referencing two events. One from the life of Elijah and one from his successor Elisha.
In both stories he points to the fact that God’s favour is not determined nor directed by familial, community or cultural rights of access. Being a home-boy does not give Nazareth special rights of privilege. In fact it would seem that cosmopolitan Capernaum is a preferred site for signs of God’s reign.
It is worth remembering that it was only the other day, in 2007, we crossed a line.  Since then,  for the first time in human history, more people on the planet live in cities than in the country. Before that cities were seen as places of excess and debauchery. Tire, Sidon, Sodom and Gomorrah, you can complete your own list, but I think for Nazarenes, Capernaum would be on their list.

This was not what the good homeys of Nazareth wanted to hear. They of all people had rights and claims to this their home-reared son.
Again, in our individualistic, Western, deconstructed nuclear families, we may not feel the tug of clan and community as the culture of Jesus would have exerted it. Those of us in more tribal cultures will have a better grip on this pressure. Imagine club, team, religion, herd, culture, gang; whatever helps to understand that people who share your origins, believe they have rights above others on your talents. Imagine that, and you will have an angle on why the Nazareth congregation became so angry.
One moment they were praising the gracious words, the next they were an angry mob wanting to throw Jesus off a cliff!

Years ago I watched Anthony Quinn pay tribute to Ingrid Bergman. ‘What made Ingrid great’, he said,’is that she was able to see fame and criticism for the impostors they are.‘ Jesus had the gift before Ingrid.

Let’s not forget that in the Gospel record two archetypal events had preceded this preaching in Nazareth.
At his baptism, Jesus had heard from God, just who he really was. “That’s my boy! I am so proud of you
In the wilderness, the shadows of ego, ambition, and power had constelated into a diabolical manifestation called, al-Shaitan= the adversary.  Jesus knowing who he was in God’s sight managed to hold his vocation and vision intact through the forty day ordeal.
Is it any wonder that he was not particularly threatened by some home town good-ole boys who got angry because he wouldn’t dance to their tune?

Christ following is a demanding and ego-threatening enterprise.
Loyalties, connections, cultural nuances, demands, threats, will all be grist to the mill that will sift us like wheat.
We will have to know who we are AND we will have to face the shadow adversaries within us.

So, how did he manage to walk through the “midst of them” and “go on his way“?

My years in conflict mediation have given me a clue.
Some mobs, some crowds, some passionate, vindictively righteous assemblies, can get so enraged, so angry, so violent, so hynotised by their fulminations that truth, light, and Universal Love, are able to depart from amongst them so swiftly they don’t even notice!

Hey! Where did you go?