Soren Kierkegaard, a 19th Century Danish philosopher and theologian, once remarked that many of the greatest minds of his day were working to make people’s lives easier – inventing labour saving devices and machines. Thus Kierkegaard decided to make people lives more difficult. He would become a preacher. And maybe he had Jesus first visit home to Nazareth as something of a celebrity, having come back to Nazareth after being coming a hit in most other places he had been, especially in Capernaum. After all, look at all the good things he had been saying doing. We are his “peeps”; his buds and his family. If he has done all these marvelous things elsewhere for people he doesn’t know then what has he saved for those who love him and know him best? Isn’t that what happens when we become familiar with someone? When expect certain things and expect the person to act in particular ways with particular mannerisms. And when we don’t get it, we get upset wanting to know where the person and the action we were expecting has gone. And then we need to lay blame. Unfulfilled expectations need to be blamed on someone. And in anger we are not very fussy about whom we blame it on and if we can focus our resentment on a particular person, all the better.
This is why I keep a particular piece of advice given to me by a mentor in my heart – be careful to choose what hill you want to die on – you can only do it once. We know that Jesus going to do what God asks of him – he will make it to that hill in spite of the fact he has been dragged to the hill where he played as a child with his friends. They used to drop rocks over the edge just to see what would happen when the rocks got to where they were going at the bottom. Now, friends and neighbours have form a mob and they are picking up stones just in case Jesus strives the fall when they throw him over. They are moved swiftly from prayer to criticism and from worship to a nearly blinding rage. All this commotion is created because the hometown favourite has refused to put on a good show. But more than that, those who are confronted with the fact that they want to be entertained rather than to encounter the Gospel and be touched by the presence of the kingdom, such people become angry even violent. Such things are the last defense of those whose expectations are confronted, exposed and even shattered by the truth. Truth cannot be ignored or extinguished. And such people who have been exposed by the truth are at war with themselves and will make causalities of those who seek to do them good. People of Nazareth didn’t reject Jesus and so he went somewhere else and to proclaim the News, teach and heal. They got angry because he went somewhere else first and then refused to treat his own like everyone else because he had been teaching and proclaiming and healing others
It’s like the man who was trapped on the roof of his house during a flash flood. He prayed that God would rescue him and then in the pouring rain and rising torrent, the man waited. It wasn’t long before a family on a makeshift raft floated by and offered the waiting man a ride. “No, but thanks, God is going to save me!” And so the family let go of the house and waved goodbye to the wet and waiting man. A little later a rescue boat used by the police came along. The two constables in the boat tried as hard as they could to convince the man that it was better for him in the boat than on the roof. Still the man would not leave insisting that God was going to come and get him. And so the constables left to check on other houses and other people. Later on, as the rain poured down and the waters continued to rise, a news helicopter came along and the news crew tried desperately to save the man, even tossing him a rope so that they could pull him off his roof top. Even in spite of the situation and how extreme it had become, the man still shouted back, “God will save me!” Only a moment or so after the helicopter had pulled away, the news crew watched as the torrent washed the man and his house away. When the man reached the Gates of Heaven he was greeted and given a towel to dry off and was escorted into the throne room where he came face to face with the Almighty. Wet, confused and a little angry the man asked God, “Why didn’t you save me?” To the man God replied, “But I did try! I sent you a raft, a boat and helicopter. What more did you need my son, what more did you need?”
What we hear in this Gospel is not something to soothe and make everything better – in fact this not soothing at all. This is not the Gentle Jesus, meek and mild that we are always used to hearing about. He makes it clear from the outset that he is here to do God’s will and fulfill the desires of his Father’s heart not ours. He is not here to pander to our expectations but to be a man of bold courage and conviction who is not going to mince words and is not afraid to jolt people from their assumptions, aspirations or expectations when they are in conflict with what God desires. Mercy is shown to those who do not deserve it not only to those who will receive it but as an indictment on those who would rather save themselves.
It is no small wondered that he enraged the congregation that morning and yet he at end walked through them and on his way. This was not his hill. It was not his time. Who receives grace and who gets mercy and when they get it is up to God. The choice is not ours but his. Living the truth as we need to do, will expose people’s strengths and weaknesses, the good and the bad. We need to make sure that we are ready to follow. Let us go with Christ and follow him whether it be easy or hard.