Throwing Jesus Away
A meditation on Luke 4: 21 – 30
Rev. Cathy C. Hoop Grace Presbyterian Church February 3, 2019
How do you listen to music now? As far as the radio is concerned, I only listen to the radio when I’m in my car and then it is basically NPR. I don’t have satellite radio. If I did, it would be tuned to that station that plays musicals…just because. As for free internet radio I use Pandora… My husband tells me I should use Spotify now instead of Pandora. I haven’t made the switch. If, however, the digital brain behind Pandora doesn’t stop throwing John Prine on every single station I have created, I might just have to become a Spotifyer. I can understand why John Prine might appear on my Bonnie Raitt station or James Taylor station, but they even sneak him in on my Christmas station or classical station. One minute I’m listening to the London Symphony Orchestra, and the next minute, it’s John Prine??
And it makes me feel guilty. Because I should like John Prine, and I do love him for his social commentary. “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You into Heaven Anymore” is ridiculously timeless, “Dear Abby” is still funny, and heartbreaking songwriting doesn’t get much better than “Angel from Montgomery” (Just give me one thing, I can hold on to; To believe in this living is just a hard way to go.) My apologies to John, but I’d rather hear someone other than John Prine sing John Prine songs.
You can create any station you want on Pandora. I listen to “Hipster Cocktail Party Radio” for cleaning the house (a little irony there, right?); Bread for an ugly, get it out of your system cry because it reminds me of my first heartbreak; and Abba for dancing away that really hard day at the office. And all of this thinking about music, made me think about Jesus. Because, well, I’m a pastor, and most things bring me back to Jesus for one reason or another…
What tune would Jesus have running through his head at the end of a really bad day? What would his “go to” Pandora station have been? What songs would he have sung? Have you ever wondered how one of those “angry with the world” psalms would sound?? I doubt it would been set to a lovely harp accompaniment. How about this line from Psalm 58: 8 “let my enemies be like snails that dissolve in their slime!” There’s a refrain to hum when the people have turned against you… again.
But that’s not a line that Jesus would have ever sung. While he received others’ anger, while he recognized that some saw him as their enemy, he only had compassion. Compassion for those who ran him out of the synagogue. Compassion for those who were ready to throw him over a cliff. Compassion for those who could not grasp the wideness of God’s love.
In Luke 4, Jesus goes from one hard day to the next. The chapter opens with Jesus being shoved into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. His hair is still damp from the waters of baptism when he confronts the world’s temptations: greed, desire, power. He experiences these enticements in their rawest forms and turns them away through the freedom and power found in scripture, going toe to toe with the evil one at each turn.
He then returns home to Nazareth, his Nazareth: the town where he knows both the beggars’ and the bread bakers’ names, the town that watched him grow from a boy to a teenager to a man. He goes home to share with the people the ultimate freedom, the humble power he experienced in the wilderness. What he discovered in the wilderness was the presence of God in the absence of everything else. What he discovered in the wilderness was the undefeatable presence of God when home, when table, when family is nowhere to be found. He goes to Nazareth to share what he has seen with his people. He goes home, which is intimidating when you’ve been away, and is especially difficult when you left as a day laborer and are planning to return as a prophet.
We like day laborers. They get things done; they make things better. They build and repair and harvest. Prophets? They are like little two year olds – they come barreling through and we can’t keep up with their curiosity, with their energy, with their mess, with their new way of seeing the world. We like them in theory, but at the end of the day, we are so glad when they finally go- to- bed! When they grow up, we look back and talk about how cute they were, how amazing, how brilliant…but we also remember the constant worry and the perpetual lack of sleep. Toddlers and prophets have basically the same effect on you if you take them seriously.
Whether that prophet is Isaiah or John the baptizer, Amos or Jesus. They all make us uncomfortable, somewhat exhausted, and either bewildered or angry. I doubt any child, when asked what they hope to be when they grow up, has answered: “I want to be a prophet!” I want to grow up and say things that disturb and confuse people. The deeper truth is that if we listen to prophets, they will empower us to do and be more than we ever imagined possible. If you were with us last Sunday, you may remember that Jesus read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.
God has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Jesus would not have gotten in trouble if he had stopped there, but he sat down to teach and said, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.” And Jesus might not have gotten in trouble if he had stopped there, but he didn’t. He spoke of how God brought release and to whom God brought recovery. He spoke of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, and how they brought God’s mercy to the “outsiders.” He spoke of how God intentionally sent these prophets to ease the suffering of those who were not part of the people Israel.
The part of this message that got Jesus in trouble with the people gathered at the synagogue? The ancient promises of liberation and restoration, recovery and renewal were welcomed. The crowd did not turn on him for reading from the scroll. Quite the opposite: they were proud of him, he was “their” Jesus, Joseph’s son. Before he said the words that would get him in hot water, he prepared them. He let them off the hook. When he said, “no prophet is honored in his own country,” he was saying: you like me now, but in five minutes, you won’t like me anymore. This was exactly what happened. The crowd turned against him when he explained that God always planned for God’s mercy, grace and hope to be shared with “outsiders.”
In their very human way, the people who had gathered at the synagogue suddenly became concerned that there would not be enough good news to go around. They couldn’t understand why Jesus would want to remind them of prophets who erased their neatly drawn lines, the lines that separated the insiders from the outsiders. If they weren’t ready to accept what God had already done, long ago, through Elijah & Elisha, how would they ever be ready for the ways that Jesus was about to rock their world? Jesus had a great big eraser and he was already teaching others how to wipe away the divisions which grieved God’s heart.
Jesus understood that his message frightened them. It was new. It was radical. They would need time. Though he allowed them to lead him to the cliff, he would not allow them to take his life. He would show them that their fear could not kill God’s love for them. They could not throw Jesus away this easily.
One tradition says that Jesus was able to hide away in a cave below the cliff edge. Another says that Jesus leapt from this spot, landing 9 kilometers away on Mt. Tabor. Quite a leap. I would imagine that Jesus simply walked back down the hill, with some of them at his side. That would have been the most unexpected response. Though you want to kill me, I will still love you. Though you want to throw me away, I will stay with you so that love may break through your fear. That’s the kind of God we serve.
And so, in closing, here is a song for Jesus, on a bad day. A song for Jesus, who is, after all, just “a fool in love” with a short sighted world.
Well it’s a strange old game you learn it slow
One step forward and it’s back you go
You’re standing on the throttle
You’re standing on the brake
In the groove ’til you make a mistake
Sometimes you’re the windshield
Sometimes you’re the bug
Sometimes it all comes together baby
Sometimes you’re just a fool in love
Sometimes you’re the Louisville Slugger
Sometimes you’re the ball
Sometimes it all comes together
Sometimes you’re gonna lose it all
You gotta know happy – you gotta know glad
Because you’re gonna know lonely
And you’re gonna know sad
When you’re rippin’ and you’re ridin’
And you’re coming on strong
You start slippin’ and slidin’
And it all goes wrong because…
One day you got the glory and then you got none
One day you’re a diamond and then you’re a stone
Everything can change in the blink of an eye
So let the good times roll before we say goodbye because…
Songwriters: MARK KNOPFLER, © Universal Music Publishing Group