What happened in the Synagogue at Nazareth is central to understanding Jesus’ ministry. When asked to read the scriptures Jesus turned to Isaiah 61 and proclaimed, “Today this has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus was saying that, in him, the Messianic age had arrived, the Kingdom of God was ushered in. He was the one sent to bring good news to the poor, release to captives, sight to the blind and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
But now listen to what happened next! Initially the people were spellbound but, as spiritual senses were overcome by worldly knowledge and concerns, they became enraged. How can Joseph’s son make these claims? They refused to believe in Jesus’ divinity because they reduced him to being merely a human teacher, the lad from the village.
Jesus rebuked them reminding them that no prophet is accepted in their home town. And as those words were sinking in, he added a further rebuke, questioning whether they would ever understand God; reminding them that there were many Jewish widows in the time of Elijah yet Elijah went to a widow in Sidon; which is to say that often in history God has been more visible in the lives of those outside the faith because his own people have rejected him and closed their hearts to grace.
The good news of Jesus Christ was and is for everyone but all too often, those who think they are close to God turn out to be furthest from him. Difficult words for those who claim to be Christian. We like to think we know who is in and out of favour and how God’s grace should be doled out. But Jesus puts a line through all of that. So be warned. Simply belonging to a church, even to the point of being a scribe or pharisee, a Bishop or Cardinal, doesn’t count for anything if your heart is closed to God. Do we seek to fit God into narrow parameters we have decided in our arrogance or are we led by his Spirit? Are we luke warm tribal church goers or convinced and authentic disciples?
When the Nazarenes heard Jesus, they were filled with rage, and tried to kill him. Take note of why. We like to say the truth will set you free. But that is not always the case. It can…. but only if you are willing to embrace it and have the wisdom and courage to learn from it. More often the truth is unwanted and dangerous. And if you speak truth you will be rejected. Hostility, anger and violence are the predictable defense of those made to face truth they would rather deny. You see this in priestly ministry. Tell people what they want to hear and you are their hero but challenge them with God’s truth and the fireworks fly. Sadly this caused too many clergy of recent generations to abandon the proclamation of God’s truth. Instead they became timid and overly cautious, seeking a quiet life and not ever rocking the boat. Despite St. Paul warning us that a spirit of timidity is loathsome.
The bottom line is that Jesus came to bring God’s truth but we humans struggle with truth in truth. Ultimately this is why we turned on him and crucified him. Oh we love the idea of truth, we pretend we posses it at all times. But this is fallacy. More truthfully we shrink from truth on a daily basis. We often live in denial of our faults and weaknesses and refuse to face up to them. And then, when truth hits home, we respond badly. Like the Nazarenes. And this is what tears churches and families apart. We get so focused on pursuing personal comfort or worldly and political agendas that we lose sight of God’s truth. We become blind even when we think we are about the work of His kingdom.
God’s word is truth- and that, if we are honest, is a terrifying thing. Which is why so few are actually ready to receive God’s truth and even fewer seem ready to live by it. As I said last week the reality is most people hate the truly wicked, who threaten their safety and possessions, but also hate the genuinely good who prick dirty consciences and make them face truth they would rather ignore. That is why most opt for mediocrity in life and a dumbed down faith. But todays Gospel reminds us that is not good enough for God. He has no interest in that at all. We must learn to stand by the truth of God’s word not by the political expediency of the current age.