Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 13:4-13; Luke 4:21-30
We have strong feelings when we discover that someone has lied to us or deceived us. We want the truth, even the unpleasant and painful truth. You want your doctor to tell you that you have cancer. How would you feel if you had terminal cancer and your doctor did not tell you? It’s far better to be told the truth than to be consoled with a pleasant lie.
If your child’s teacher calls you and tells you that your child is failing in school you would, of course, be upset. But if your child were failing how would you feel if the teacher simply allowed you to feel good without knowing the truth?
Now, while we agree with that in principle, there are facts we don’t want to hear. We don’t even want to discuss them. We would rather that they were buried, or that somehow they would go away where we didn’t have to pay attention to them. It brings to mind the phrase we’ve all heard: “My mind is made up. Please don’t confuse me with the facts.”
Today’s gospel account brings us Jesus in His own hometown having just given His “Inaugural Address” in His home synagogue, there among all of His family and friends. He was the toast of the town – well received; they held Him in their rapt attention. The gospel account tells us “All who were present spoke favorably of him. They marveled at the appealing discourse that came from His lips.” But very soon it all turned to hatred. Moments later they took Him to the brow of a cliff and attempted to throw Him over the cliff’s edge to His death. They suddenly changed and turned on Him when Jesus told them a truth they did not want to hear.
What had He said to them? Well, He reminded them of two events in Jewish history. One was during the life of Elijah, the prophet. The Hebrews in Elijah’s time were suffering from a horrible drought; people were dying of starvation. A prophet had come from God to a widow and because of her faith. God had saved her. The problem was she was not a Jew, she was a Gentile. The same was true in the story of Elisha. Leprosy was a plague spreading throughout Israel but God used a prophet to save only one leper, and he, too, was a Gentile.
This was all terribly painful for the Jews of the time of Jesus because they had come to believe that they were God’s Chosen, that non-Jews would not be saved, and that God’s love and favor were manifest only in and among Jews. The people Nazareth, as well as those in other Jewish settlements, and especially in Jerusalem, apparently thought they had a monopoly on God. In fact, that idea was axiomatic in their thinking. In times of conflict God would come to their aid, they thought. When all else failed God could be counted on and non- Jews would suffer and die outside of God’s favor and love. Jesus’ words deeply offended them because He was reminding them that what they believed about God’s favor might not be true.
Centuries and centuries later, in Italy, it was commonly believed that the earth was the center of the universe. Everyone believed that the sun revolved around the earth and that the earth was the center of the solar system. A Polish scientist by the name of Copernicus had argued otherwise a century earlier, but nobody took him seriously. Then an Italian scientist by the name of Galileo came along and showed them through a telescope that they were all wrong. Italians, including powerful Cardinals in Rome, were shocked and horrified. They had Galileo arrested and silenced because he upset their ways of seeing reality and their self-inflated attitudes about humans being the center of God’s universe. Their minds were up and they didn’t want to be confused by the facts, even facts that came to them through a telescope!
The problem arises, you see, when we are confronted with a truth that requires us to change, to change our attitudes toward people of other races, to change the way we behave, to change our patterns of living. This is what Jesus was about. He wasn’t interested in simply having nice intellectual discussions about interesting ideas. He wasn’t simply talking about tidbits of history. He was calling for a thoroughgoing change in the way they understood themselves, they way they understood God, and what they should be about in their ways of living and relating to other people.
The people of Nazareth realized what they were facing, namely a prophet of God who was confronting them not with a mere debating subject but with a radical change in living. You see, if it was true that God cared for non-Jews, if it was true that God also cared for Gentiles, then it was likewise true that they had to do the same. Well, they had no intention of doing THAT! They were not about to change their pre-judgments. They probably told their racial jokes about “those Gentile people”, and we know they were deeply prejudiced toward Samaritans, much like we were (and sometimes are today) toward Blacks and Native Americans in our own history.
So how do we often react in the face of such confrontations when we are challenged much like the hometown folks of Nazareth were challenged? We dismiss or even kill the messenger. “If you don’t like the message, well, then, get rid of the messenger,” as the saying goes. If you are the defense attorney in a court trial then make the prosecuting attorneys and the police either look like bullies or like fools. Destroy the witnesses by discrediting them or by ruining their reputations. If the message you are hearing upsets you, destroy either the content of the message or else destroy the messenger.
We like to pride ourselves in thinking that we want to hear the truth. We even tell our wives, our husbands, and our children that we always want to hear the truth from them. But if they present us with a truth that requires us to seriously change, watch out!
We tell God we want Him to reveal His will to us. In our piety and in our prayers we tell God we will do anything for Him. We had better be prepared, however, for what He will tell us. Be careful about what you pray for, you may get it.
And so if the truth hurts… well perhaps it should! Too many of us want to shape God into being just like us. We want Him to think like an American, a capitalist, a liberal, a conservative, or whatever. We fancy God as seeing things just as we see them. All such ideas about God need to be challenged, and then we (not God!) need to change. What hope do we have to grow and be saved if we only worship a God who is just a small, just as mean, and just as petty as we are?
The people of Nazareth are a lot like us. And too often we are much like them. So when the truth hurts, when it confronts and challenges us, we ought to ask ourselves “Why are we so upset?” We ought to take a second look and see if it is God who is causing us growing pains. We will never be saved if we worship only a God who suits us because we’ve made Him over into our own image and likeness. When we pray we should expect change, for prayer changes us, not God.