3 Feb 2013
“When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were filled with fury. They rose up [and] drove [Jesus] out of the town …” (Luke 4:28-29a) In the name …
Last week we spoke about the first half of the story of Jesus’ visit to His old hometown synagogue in Nazareth. We spoke about how His childhood neighbours were greatly impressed by His presence, that there was something different about Him, captivating and intriguing. Luke called it the “power of the Spirit.” And we spoke about how the Spirit can change people, not just Jesus but any of us, and we talked about the gifts that the Spirit gives to each of us for the good of the community. The way Paul explained it to us last Sunday was that we are all part of one body and that we all have different jobs to do so that the body can function properly. That message shouldn’t be too hard to understand on Super Bowl Sunday.
Today we hear the second part of the Nazareth synagogue story. And it has taken a surprising turn. The people’s admiration of Jesus has quickly turned around. They become furious with Jesus, the carpenter’s son. How dare He say that He is the fulfillment of the old Isaian prophecy, that He is the anointed of God. They know His mother and father. They know His brothers and sisters. They watched Him grow-up. And their memories of who Jesus was erased their first sense of excitement when He came back to town, when they first sensed that “power of the Spirit.” They talked themselves out of wanting to believe. They settled for the ordinary so that the extraordinary had no chance. They would not allow themselves to see anything more than the carpenter’s son. And Jesus never returned to His hometown again. Their chance had come, and their chance had gone.
And from the perspective of Jesus, I think He was shocked by this. Everything to this point had been going very well for Him. Luke is the only Evangelist who tells us of Jesus’ visit to the Jerusalem Temple when He was 12 years old and how the priests and teachers fawned over the boy. They were “astounded” says Luke over His wisdom and understanding. Luke also makes absolutely clear that something wondrous happened at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan. Mark and Matthew relay a private vision of Jesus. They say only that “He saw” the Spirit descend from the heavens. But Luke writes instead that the Spirit “descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove.” This wasn’t a private vision. This was real; this was tangible; this was something you take a picture of. Then Jesus exits the desert-temptation triumphant and ready and fired-up to do God’s work. The power of the Spirit was so strong upon Him that last Sunday we heard “news of Him spread throughout the whole region … and [He] was praised by all.” Even His old neighbours at first are utterly awed by Him.
Then, out of nowhere, everything changes. All of the success and accolades disappear and for the first time in the biblical story Jesus encounters opposition, disbelief, hatred and even the threat of violence. And we see in this that even Jesus could be surprised by life’s unexpected turn of events. Even Jesus faced the all-too-human predicament of not knowing what tomorrow holds in store for us. So whether it be the example of the people of Nazareth who blew their one and only opportunity to see in Jesus something more than the ordinary, or whether it be Jesus’ own surprise at life’s unexpected and even unwanted changes, we are confronted this morning with the sacred importance of the now.
This isn’t a message about life is too short. The people of Nazareth continued on their merry way after Jesus left town as if nothing had changed. Instead, it’s a warning that our chances to decide to really believe are not limitless. There was a cute cartoon in last Sunday’s newspaper. The little devil-conscience whispers into Poncho the dog’s ear to go ahead and get into the garbage, make a mess. Then in the other ear the angel-conscience whispers the exact same thing. Then Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio’s conscience from another cartoon, appears and yells at the other two guys, telling them that they’re supposed to balance each other out, one should give voice to the good and one should give voice to temptation. In the last box of the cartoon strip, though, the devil and the angel conscience tag-team Jiminy Cricket and beat him up.
There is the message in this simple little cartoon strip that at some point the voice of our conscience loses its balance. At some point the moral voices begin to say the same thing. At some point there is no pang of conscience that tells us there is another choice, and that’s where the community of faith and organized religion become so important. Religion is fading in multiple demographics. Organized religion is contracting. And people are doing just fine with this. That other voice that talks about the body of Christ, that we all have gifts to use for the good of the whole, that when one is honoured all rejoice and when one suffers everyone suffers, that message we heard from Paul last Sunday is growing fainter and fainter. Our chances to believe, to grow in the faith, to be challenged by the faith and by others, and the opportunity to help others believe, those opportunities are not limitless. There is a sacred importance of the now.
And then there is also Jesus’ example. He is surprised by the unexpected change He encounters at Nazareth. Out of nowhere people, old friends and neighbours, turn against Him. But this obstacle does not cause Jesus to throw-up His hands and give-up. Jesus moves on and continues with His ministry. Just because we believe that we are doing the work and will of God does not mean that everything will go smoothly. Even the best of intentions can be met with the most unexpected and unwanted of results. But then we, like Jesus, have to keep trying. We have to keep struggling to get the message of God out into a busy world before there’s only silence. These are the messages buried in today’s Gospel. May we learn them both: the sacred importance of the now and the necessity to keep at it even when life throws us a curveball. And for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo