If you invited someone to your house and shortly after they arrived you felt like throwing them off a cliff; I would want to know what happened. A similar thing happened to Jesus when everyone was “speaking well of him” and a short time later they were trying to throw him off a cliff. I thought they would have been happy. He had told them that the prediction of the coming of the messiah was fulfilled. The waiting was over. Hope had finally been realized! There was good news for the poor, freedom for prisoners, sight for the blind, and forgiveness of crippling debt. For that they wanted to throw him off a cliff.
But, truth be told, he did claim that God sent him to do these things. They wanted him to do some magic tricks, like he supposedly did in another town. Otherwise, they figured he was just a small town carpenter’s kid with delusional fantasies. But Jesus resisted, saying that there were others long before him who were accepted pillars of Hebrew prophecy ~ and they didn’t run around healing everybody in sight. Why should he?
The congregation was focusing on what he should do, rather than on what they could do. They preferred to hear about dead prophets in the Bible, rather than living prophets in their midst. They had mixed feelings about good news for the poor; freedom for prisoners; the restoration of sight to the blind; people getting out from under the yoke of oppression and relief from crushing debt. And for that, they want to throw Jesus off a cliff. Maybe change ~ even change for the better ~ was somehow threatening.
But let’s give the congregation a break. They had heard a startling sermon. Imagine if your pastor stepped into the pulpit and told you that the soup kitchen was going to be moved into the sanctuary, and the sanctuary was going to be moved to where the soup kitchen is. Imagine if your pastor wanted all of you to march to the county jail, unlock all the cell doors, and set the prisoners free. Not an easy sermon to hear!
How many cliffs have you been led to because you said something someone didn’t want to hear? The family is in denial about a problem and they try to throw you off a cliff for bringing it up. You tell your partner, “we can’t keep spending money we don’t have” and for that your partner won’t talk to you for two days. You offer sound, but admittedly unsolicited advice to your children and it gets ugly as they try to throw you off a cliff for trying to help.
I wish the congregation would have listened to Jesus instead of reacting so quickly to this message. All Jesus told them was that he wouldn’t be their eternal miracle worker. He was not ministering only to the poor; knowing that some of us are poor in pocket and others are poor in spirit, and thus we are all “the poor”. Jesus proclaimed freedom for prisoners, knowing that most of us have not been in a walls and bars prison ~ but have been locked in a prison of addiction, loneliness, fear or regret. Jesus provided sight to the blind, knowing that most of us have eyes, but are often blind to what is really going on. Jesus set the oppressed free, knowing that many of us are oppressed by outside forces, but also by the oppressor in our own head telling us “you can’t do that” because you’re too old; too late, too weak, too poor, too shy or have too little self-esteem. Jesus proclaimed relief from debt, knowing there are many kinds of indebtedness other than financial, such as the crippling debt of shame, remorse, grief or bitterness over the way that things could have been. And for that the people wanted to throw him off a cliff.
Do you remember how Jesus was saved from being thrown off a cliff? Teetering on the edge, but rooted in God and speaking truth with love, “He walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” That may be the biggest miracle Jesus ever performed. Pushed to the brink, he turned and walked right through the anger and the opposition. I wonder how many people followed him? I wonder how many of us still do?
Dwight Lee Wolter is the author of many books and the pastor of the Congregational Church of Patchogue on Long Island, New York. He blogs at dwightleewolter.com
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