Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Making Everyone Mad

As I read and study the gospel lesson this week, I realize that the authors of the lectionary really have worked some magic. They could have lumped this week’s gospel with last week’s gospel as one, slightly larger but not unmanageable lesson. But they didn’t. They wanted to make sure that the scroll from Isaiah got its due. They could have cut off the first verse of this Sunday’s lesson, changed some pronouns, and begin this gospel reading with, “All [in the synagogue] spoke well of [Jesus] and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” That would have given this lesson a focus on the fight Jesus picks with the congregation. But no! Those who crafted the lectionary insist on repeating the last verse of last Sunday’s reading as the first verse of this Sunday’s reading as a way of encouraging the preacher to take whatever was said last Sunday and throw it out the window—kind of like Jesus did.

Step one: Jesus reads from Isaiah and announces that the scripture has been fulfilled. Step two: the people are overjoyed and what Jesus is telling them. Step three: Jesus then stirs up trouble by quoting from two ancient stories of ministry to Gentiles. Step four: the people change their mind about him and try to kill him instead. That is one quick turnaround.

As I think about the way Luke tells this story, I am drawn into the line, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” In Mark 6:3, which happens to be theDaily Office lesson for today, Jesus gets identified according to his earthly family by some people who don’t like him so much. They ask, “Isn’t this so-and-so? He can’t be saying this, can he?” But in Luke, I think we get the opposite. “All spoke well of him…Is not this Joseph’s son?” I hear them saying to themselves, “Wow, this guy is amazing! Is he really Joseph’s son? I need to tell that guy how proud he should be of his son. He’s incredible!”

Luke wants us to see that it’s Jesus who isn’t satisfied with the crowd’s interpretation of his identity. The crowd likes Jesus, and Jesus doesn’t like that. Have you ever known someone who took a compliment and threw it back, angering the one who paid it? That’s what Jesus does. He’s looking for a fight because it’s too easy to hear the message of God’s messiah as something reserved for us. Jesus—especially Luke’s Jesus—won’t have it that way.

Within a few sentences, the congregation goes from “All spoke well of him” to “filled with rage.” That’s a pretty quick turnaround. What made this mob angry enough to kill Jesus? Partly, it’s the fact that his message showed them that the kingdom includes Gentiles. But that’s only part of it. The other part is the total reversal of their expectations. It wouldn’t be so bad to hear that message of inclusion if Jesus hadn’t started by building their hopes up. He allowed them to hook themselves on their own misinterpretation of Isaiah. And then he drops the bomb of “God’s not talking to you,” which is a pretty tough thing to hear.

As I prepare to write a sermon for this Sunday, I wonder what I can say that might tick everyone off as much as Jesus did. How can I open my remarks with something that will take everyone’s hopes and dreams and challenge them in such a way that they want to kill me? Because guess what—he’s talking to us.

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