Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | January 28, 2019

Over the cliff

          In a few lines in Luke, Jesus goes from beloved hometown boy to dangerous stranger, from welcomed to feared.

And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for 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. [from Luke 4]

          At the beginning they listen to him, and they like what they hear. At the beginning.

  Then Jesus preaches to them about a couple of faith stories from the tradition. Everybody likes to hear a good story. The problem for his hearers is the particular stories he chooses to tell.

          Story #1: Elijah preached during a time of terrible famine, but God didn’t send him to the people of Israel who were in great need. God sent him to a widow in Sidon (modern day Lebanon). God didn’t heal an Israelite. God healed the son of a poor, Gentile widow, from Sidon. Decidedly not a person of God in the belief system of Jesus’ hearers.

          Story #2: God could’ve healed one of the many lepers of Israel, but instead God used Elisha to heal this Naaman character. He was more than just a Gentile. He was an enemy. Worse, he was an officer in the enemy’s army.

  Lebanon and Syria were the same enemies of the people of Israel then as they are now. They had a history of warring and enmity then as they do now. The people of Lebanon and Syria had killed innocent people. Many, many times. They worshiped other Gods. They spoke other languages.

          Is Jesus trying to make the people of his hometown angry?  Maybe he is. They have tried to own him as one of theirs, then disown him when they think he’s crossed a line. He tells them about how God not only cares about their enemies, but sometimes seems to prefer some of those people they categorize as “enemy.” Ouch.

          Do Jesus’ hometown friends welcome this message of the magnitude of God’s love?  Nope. They want to push his message, and him with it, over the cliff.

          Any people of faith get into deep problems when they think that they and people like them are God’s favorites. Jesus does away with all of that. But that’s the message we want to ignore, the message we’d like to push toward the cliff’s edge.

  In my country we’re (still) talking about building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Of course, everyone understandably wants border security. But the problem comes when we speak of people on the other side of the border as “less than.” Less deserving. Less moral. Less… white? One argument I often see on Facebook is “We need to take care of our own.”  Well, we don’t always do a good job of taking care of our own (reference government shutdown that has hurt so many Americans). But, for Christians, we must remember that everyone is “our own.”

  Look at the example of Jesus. He doesn’t spend a lot of time demonstrating great love toward the people who “deserve” it. He show mercy to a woman caught in adultery; he touches the skin of lepers; he eats with sinners and outcasts; he forgives his friends even when they desert him; he heals people he doesn’t even know; he talks to people he isn’t supposed to deal with.

          Jesus is all about shocking people into examining what real love looks like, by examining what the love of God looks like.

  The people try to throw Jesus and his message of love over the cliff, but he passes through the midst of them and goes on his way.

  God’s love will go on its way, whether we are the agents of that love or not. I’d like to hope, though, that we won’t be the ones trying to push the message over the cliff.

  Let’s be the ones who help Jesus pass through the angry mob to take his message over the world.

© 2019, Melissa Bane Sevier

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