Jesus was a hometown celebrity … for a while. The message of God’s agapé love wasn’t popular.
I grew up in a small town in eastern Ontario. Not just one, but two of our local boys made it to the NHL. (If you live someplace where hockey isn’t the icon it is in Canada, just pick your favorite sport. Imagine a player in the national league as being someone you grew up rubbing elbows with.)
It was rare for these hometown celebrities to drop back for a visit, at least publicly. When they did, they made a point of shaking hands with the mayor, getting their pictures taken with crowds of admiring kids, and giving interviews where they reminisced about playing shinny on the local pond while growing up.
In other words, it was a feel good opportunity. They got to spread a little good will and leave people with a warm feeling of pride that “one of their own” had done so well.
They never rocked the boat.
Jesus was a hometown celebrity too. (As usual, we’re not concerning ourselves with whether or not the Gospel story is historically “real”. We’re just interested in the “truth” that it can tell us.)
Jesus had become well known as an itinerant preacher and a healer. He was an up-and-comer in religious circles. So it was natural, when he came back to town, that he was invited to speak in the synagogue. No doubt it was a full house.
We can imagine that the congregation was expecting Jesus to follow the same hometown celebrity formula as those NHL players. He’d tell a few anecdotes about life on the road. He’d maybe crack a joke about how his teacher never thought he’d amount to anything. Since he’d grown up working in Joseph’s carpenter shop, he’d know pretty much everyone. No doubt he smiled and nodded at familiar faces gathered to hear some encouraging and comforting words.
But then Jesus rocked the boat.
The writer of Mark doesn’t tell us what Jesus said. Neither does the author of Matthew. The Gospel of Luke isn’t quite so circumspect. However, since it was written for a different audience with a different goal we won’t include it here.
Mark’s author has the congregation wonder where Jesus’ wisdom comes from. Suddenly, the fact that they knew him as a kid seems less a matter for hometown pride, and more one of the carpenter’s kid getting too big for his britches.
They could tell that Jesus was speaking “with authority” but they didn’t have to like it and they didn’t intend to listen.
In most translations, it says that the people were “offended.” That’s not a very good translation. Some include the word “stumbled.” That’s a little better but confusing. S kan-dal-id’-zo, the original Greek word, means more than just to annoy someone or speak impolitely. It means to “entice into sin”, to “lead astray.” Jesus was saying things that ran counter to what the priests and rabbis were telling people every week.
Since his message is consistent throughout the Gospels, it’s reasonable for us to infer that he was once again talking of God’s radical inclusive agapé love for all of Creation.
All of the doctrine and dogma; all of the rules and regulations; all of the penalties and offerings were not just unnecessary; they were impediments to deepening our relationship with Theos.
They got mad. They kicked him out.
The author of Mark says Jesus was “amazed.” After all, wasn’t he telling them something good? Wasn’t he simplifying their whole belief system? Wasn’t he saying that God, far from being the wrathful, vengeful Zeus-god on the mountain, was instead a loving, compassionate, all-encompassing Divinity?
It didn’t matter. They didn’t want to hear it.
It’s a curious human trait that we find it more comforting to live with the rules set out for us. Even if we don’t obey them very well. We like to know that the speed limit is 100km/hr. Even if we always drive at 120. We like to know that we’re supposed to wait until the light is green to cross the street. Even if we have no intention of waiting if we think we can beat the traffic.
Until recently, what we think of as “Christianity” was big on rules too. Many groups within it still are. But we’re increasingly setting aside those rules, recognizing that, like the doctrine and dogma of Jesus’ time, they’re more obstacle than aid in our spiritual journey.
We’re hoping that “doing our best” will be good enough.
The good news is that it is.
But… That’s only the first part of the Message of the Christ.
To follow the Way of the Christ is to set aside all rules, all limits, all boundaries. It is to reach out to everyone and everything in all things that we do.
In his lectionary analysis, John notes –
This is in keeping, Crossan claims, with Jesus’ inauguration of the kingdom as an “interactive social radicalism” consisting of two distinct elements: those who were itinerant preachers of a radical gospel and those who were resident householders who witnessed to it less radically in their normal community living.
We are called to be “interactive social radicals.”
That’s a lot harder than following the rules. And it requires more than just “doing our best.”
The people of Jesus’ hometown didn’t want to hear it two thousand years ago.
The question is, do we want to hear it today?
This reflection draws on material from John Shearman’s Lectionary Resource . – David
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