When they heard (Jesus’ words), 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. (Luke 4:28-30)
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13:13)
In my teen years, I was a bit of an expert on love and rejection.
I fell serially in love with beautiful classmates who shared a common trait of needing to wash their hair on the Saturday evenings I proposed a quiet date at the movies. I won’t mention their names because I feel sure they have deeply regretted their split ends and romantic miscalculations over the ensuing decades.
And there were other fish in the sea. Besides the girls next door, I was in love with Annette Funicello of the Mickey Mouse Club. I was in love with Gail Davis, television’s buxom Annie Oakley.
I even set a new standard for unrequited adoration by falling tragically for Thelma Todd, the “Hot Toddy” of Marx Brothers movies, who died 11 years before I was born.
Maybe my wistful affair with Hot Toddy was even useful on some level because I certainly was not among those who mocked Manti Te’o for having a girl friend he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
No one really knows what goes on in the hearts and minds of males before their cerebral cortex is fully developed.
And when it comes to love, the only thing we can say for sure that it is inexplicable and often cruel and especially so when one is young.
At the time Hot Toddy and I were an item, I am sure I had no idea what was going on in the Synagogue in Jerusalem when the crowd turned abruptly from adoring Jesus to wanting to throw him off a cliff.
And I’m sure I grasped little of Paul’s magnificent love poetry in I Corinthians, except for the part about seeing through a mirror dimly, which is a valuable skill if your girl friend has been a ghost since 1935.
Perhaps the incident in the Nazareth synagogue is the easier passage to understand because we know from more recent experience that public opinion is fickle and the crowds that cry Hosanna on Sunday may be crying “crucify him” on Friday.
We see this all the time in our media. Five years ago contending politicians complained the press was praising and building up an unknown and untested first-term senator from Illinois. With media hosannas ringing in his ears, Barack Obama wrested the presidential nomination from a better-known and more experienced candidate, and then went on to win the White House following a contest with a long-time senator and lifelong public servant.
But the hosannas stopped quickly enough. Led by rhetorical charges from Fox News, Mr. Obama was declared weak, indecisive, and “disappointing.”
A lot of this is politics as usual, of course. A reporter once asked President Kennedy about a report that the Republican National Committee had passed a resolution that JFK was “pretty much of a failure.” Kennedy stifled a smile and said, “Well, I assume it passed unanimously.”
John Kennedy is one politician who didn’t live to see the hosannas fade. He was still riding high in the polls when he was cut down in Dallas 50 years ago. In the immediate aftermath of his assassination, he was virtually deified by grieving admirers. But as the years passed and his affairs with teen-age interns and the girlfriends of Mafia chieftains became known, JFK became the target of derision. Crowds are fickle. If they don’t like what you say or do, they’ll turn on you.
As he entered the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus was also riding high in the polls. Word of his sermons and miracles had reached his hometown, and the local crowd was eager to see what he would do. The synagogue leaders honored Jesus with an invitation to speak, and one can imagine the resonant authority in his voice as he read the passage from Isaiah.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
As Jesus carefully rolled up the scroll and sat down, he would have been safer to smile benignly at the audience and keep his mouth closed. No doubt the old boys would haves smiled back in civic pride that a local boy had made them all feel so good.
Instead, Jesus said, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The old boys’ jaws dropped as they gaped at the young upstart. Jesus felt the love hiss out of the bromance like helium from a balloon.
He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”
And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown.
But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up 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. (Luke 4:23-30)
The crowd may have been expecting miracles, but not the ones they got: a Scripture reading by God’s son and a declaration that Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.
The old boys descended into paroxysms of rage, sputtering among themselves that this lad who thought he was all that was the son of a lowly carpenter, and they knew his family, and none of them were all that either. The religious leaders of Nazareth became a lynch mob, joining arms and hands to force Jesus to the edge of a cliff at the end of town. They had every intention of hurling him off the cliff, onto the rocks below.
But Jesus stared them down and, in another miracle the old boys weren’t expecting, he walked back through the crowd to safety “and went on his way.”
The old boys came to the synagogue to see Jesus perform the tricks they had heard stories about: water made into wine, the blind made to see, the lame made to walk. The miracles they got were not what they were expecting – the revelation that Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s historic prophecies, and a quiet demonstration of God’s power over mob rule. These were perhaps the greatest miracles Jesus had performed to date, and the old boys missed them entirely.
The old boys also missed another point Jesus was making when read the passage from Isaiah.
The passage has long been regarded a prophetic call for justice for all.
At the same time, the passage is a remarkable declaration of love because of the affection it expresses for so many of God’s unloved people: the poor, the sick, the prisoners, the victims of oppression, those drowning in debt.
When the old boys rejected Jesus at Nazareth, it was more than one of those historic incidents in which the public places you on a lofty pedestal so it will have the smug satisfaction of knocking you off.
When the old boys rejected Jesus at Nazareth, it was also a callous spurning of a suitor who came to them with words of love. Jesus opened him arms and urged his listeners to embrace not only one another, but to reach out in love to those they instinctively scorned. The poor. The sick. Prisoners. The oppressed. People who owed them money.
Alas, the old boys had no patience for that. When they rejected Jesus at Nazareth, they rejected the messiah, the Son of God, the fulfillment of all prophecy.
They also rejected the strongest power in the universe: love.
Fortunately, though we may willfully reject God’s love , God’s love for us never stops.
Paul, the apostle who began his religious career as a Pharisee spewing hatred to the followers of Jesus, experienced the power of God’s love.
And very few writers have expressed love more eloquently or in words more worth savoring than the former hater.
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.
For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;
but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (I Corinthians 13:1-13)