Listening Even When the Words Are Painful

It's hard to hear an uncomfortable truth without getting defensive and angry and responding, "How dare you talk to me that way!" I heard the story of a man who had gained quite a bit of weight. He went to the doctor for a physical. The doctor looked at his chart where the man's height and weight were written, made a few notes, and then had to leave the room for a moment. The man sneaked a look at his chart. The doctor had written, "The patient is obese." Who wants to hear something like that?

Jesus wrote a hard message on Nazareth's chart: He gave them a history lesson. God sent Elijah to feed a non-Jewish widow in a time of famine. Why? Perhaps because she was willing to first share her bread with him (1 Kgs. 17:10). God sent Elisha to heal a non- Jewish leper, Naaman the Syrian. Why? Perhaps because he was willing, albeit after some negotiations, to receive God's healing (2 Kgs. 5). They were livid when Jesus claims that the blessings he brings will go to others whom they disdain and not to the people in their town. They didn't like the implication that they have no one to blame, but themselves.

Nobody else had the guts to tell them what Jesus told them and us: "You won't be able to claim God's blessings for your life unless you claim them for other people's lives at the same time." Nobody else but you has the power to accept this hard message as the guiding light of your life. Nobody else but you has the power to accept Jesus' gifts of peace, forgiveness, justice for your life.

Finding Our Own Mount of Jumpification

There was once a young American who got a job as a tour guide for church groups from the U.S. touring the Holy Land. He would stand at the front of the bus with the microphone and point out the sights as the bus rolled through this town and that. He studied hard and did a good job, but he says that at first he felt like he just had to know the answer to every question. And he got all kinds.

One time, they were touring by Nazareth with a bus full of people. He pointed out the window and said, "This may well be the hill from which the people of Nazareth in Luke chapter 4 tried to cast Jesus off." At this, an old Catholic priest who had seemed to be sleeping at the back of the bus, raised his head and asked, "What is it called?" The young man searched his memory wildly for a moment and then blurted out, "It's called the Mount of Jumpification."

Everybody has their own internal Mount of Jumpification—where they have the choice to reject him and his message and his gifts. Or not. Where they have the opportunity to give up prejudice and celebrate the fact that God's mercy and liberation are meant for all. Where they give up defensiveness, accept the prophetic critique, and commit themselves to Jesus' kingdom of righteousness and justice.

We can read the whole fourth chapter of Luke in one sitting and know full well how his Homecoming message was received. We don't have to break it into two parts like the lectionary does (4:1-21 and 4:21-30). It's not a cliffhanger in Scripture. But it is in our own lives. Between what Jesus says and how we respond, there is a question mark, there is suspense. We ourselves hang from a cliff—will we accept the hard truth about our lives and our acceptance or rejection of God through Jesus, or will we close our ears?

The text ends in this mysterious and hopeful way—Jesus, passing through the midst of them, went on his way.

The good news is that we can't get rid of him so easily.

He wants to grow and become strong in our lives, so that it's no secret to us or others that anxiety is weakening and peace is growing, that condemnation of others is weakening and forgiveness is growing, that apathy toward the suffering of others is weakening and passion for justice is growing.

And the child grew and became strong.

Filled with wisdom and the favor of God upon him.

May it be so in our lives and our churches this Epiphany season.