When was the last time Jesus just really ticked you off? When have you been filled with rage at Jesus for something he said or did? And what was that about? When was the last time you were so angry with Jesus that you wanted to throw him off a cliff?
I’ve not seen or heard that kind of anger at Jesus from any of you. But neither have I seen or heard that kind of anger at Jesus from myself.
And yet, the people in today’s gospel (Luke 4:21-30) are filled with rage at what he has said. They’re so angry that they drove him out of town and tried to throw him off a cliff. I’ve never heard of that happening in any church, let alone here at St. Philip’s. Why not? Why isn’t that happening?
If I really took to heart what Jesus says and does how could I not get angry?
- “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also” (Matthew 5:39);
- “Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor” (Luke 18:22);
- “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44) and forgive “seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22);
- “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34);
- “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26);
- You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me (Matthew 25:41-44);
- “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).
Those don’t make me angry or filled with rage at Jesus. They don’t even keep me awake at night. Do they you?
They are nice ideals, good principles to teach our children, gracious words, but they aren’t really practical or relevant in a world where individualism reigns, where peace is about superior firepower, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, where what you have determines who you are.
Do we not believe that Jesus means what he says? Do we think his words don’t apply to us? Do we just want to come to church but not really follow the way of Jesus?
How is that we can come here every Sunday, week after week, month after month, year after year, listen to what Jesus says and does, and never get upset about it when we look at ourselves or our world? Why don’t you and I get as angry at Jesus as the people in today’s gospel?
Here are some things I’ve been wondering about:
- Maybe we’re so familiar with the stories about Jesus that we can no longer hear them. We know the stories and what’s going to happen but we no longer hear the challenge, the critique, or the invitation to transformation.
- Maybe we assign Jesus’ gospel to Sunday mornings and our individual politics to the rest of the week, forgetting, denying, or refusing to see that his gospel is to be our politics.
- Maybe we assume that the answer to WWJD is the same as what we, our church, our country, or our party would do.
- Maybe we’re happy for Jesus to be our co-pilot, to ride shotgun with us, but we never let him drive.
- Maybe we still think we can serve two masters.
- Maybe individualism, materialism, and hedonism are the real trinity in our life.
- Maybe we’ve domesticated Jesus and softened the gospel so we can remain comfortable and privileged.
- Maybe we’ve traded a life of meaning for success, approval, and popularity.
- Maybe we’re just unwilling to grow up, to look at and take responsibility for ourselves.
I don’t know if any of those describe what’s going in you but I am tangled up in all of them. Those are some of my struggles.
I used to think something was wrong with the people that day for getting angry at Jesus. If they were more faithful and really believed then they wouldn’t have gotten angry. But now I’m wondering if something is wrong with me for not getting angry. Maybe they’re angry because they are faithful and really do believe. Maybe they got the point and I’ve missed it. Maybe they were really listening that day, paying attention, and I’m just not.
Something happened to the people in the synagogue that day. At first “all spoke well of [Jesus] and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” But then he kept on talking “and all in the synagogue were filled with rage.” That’s when “they drove him out of town … so that they might hurl him off the cliff.” What happened to them that day?
- I wonder if the light came on for them and they realized Jesus wasn’t just talking to them, he was talking about them. And he really did mean what he said.
- I wonder if they heard his answer to WWJD and it terrified them because it was not at all what they were doing or willing to do.
- I wonder if they experienced the power of the gospel to offend and not just comfort.
- I wonder if they realized Jesus was turning their world upside down and it was no longer business as usual.
- I wonder if they heard Jesus calling them to change and do life differently.
What if we opened ourselves to let any one of those things happen to us the next time we hear the gospel? What if instead of looking for and sharing our closest moment with Christ, we experienced and told others about our angriest moment at Christ?
I’m talking about the kind of anger that makes us look at ourselves with brutal honesty, that helps us realize what really matters, that energizes us to do things differently. What if this kind of anger at Jesus is the beginning of discipleship?
What would it take for you and me to be as angry at Jesus today as the people were that day in Nazareth?