Jesus Cast in the Odd Role of Villian in Biblical "Cliffhanger"
No love for the returning local hero
What a difference a sentence or two can make.
In today's Gospel (Luke 4: 21-30), we find Jesus the Nazarene returning home to deliver an address which those in attendance apparently assumed would be nothing more than a tossed bouquet of azaleas followed by a victory lap.
But the fateful message on this particular day was far from obligatory in nature; business as usual would no longer be the norm.
But more on that in a moment.
In our first reading, the prophet Jeremiah learns of his calling from God ("before I formed you in the womb I knew you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you" ~ Jer 1:5). Jeremiah, often referred to as the "weeping prophet,” would then go on to learn about the source of his upcoming lament. In a genuine spiritual foreshadowing, God goes on to implore Jeremiah to hang tough:
"But do not gird your loins; stand up and tell them all that I command you. Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you crushed before them; for it is I this day who have made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass, against the whole land: against Judah's kings and princes, against its priests and people. They will fight against you but not prevail over you,for I am with you to deliver you"
Galvanized by the faith and fortitude instilled in him by God, Jeremiah soldiered on and thus fulfilled his destiny as a prophet whose words would echo throughout time. This Reading (Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19) serves as the perfect segue into today's Gospel, wherein Jesus essentially goes on to show Jeremiah how it's done in the face of His oppressors.
Jesus was suddenly faced with a hostile mob after explaining to them that the Gentiles too were God's children and thus equally worthy of God's favor and citizenship in His eternal kingdom. So incensed with fury were the Jews that they rose up, drove Jesus out of town and all the way to the threshold of the cliff where they had literally planned to shove him off the edge.
Had this been a Hollywood Movie, Jesus would have undoubtedly been forced to dodge a hail storm of bullets while single-handedly laying a well-deserved beat down on each thuggish tattooed member of the angry Israeli mob, complete with dramatic catch-phrases and the compensation of popcorn and milk duds. After all, He still had much work to do in order to fulfill the will of God and couldn't meet His demise in such anti-climatic and unanticipated fashion.
But Jesus avoids the cliches that make for big box office and instead calmly passes through the crowd and departs, no doubt extremely disappointed but fully aware that this was to be His fate, just as Jeremiah and the other prophets chosen by God lived out their fate. Just as all of us are called to carry out God's will and therefore fulfill our fate as members of a thriving Parish Community.
Perhaps the Jews were more interested in a Political Leader than a Spiritual Leader. History indicates that spirituality was on the decline at the time ~ sound familiar? ~ but Jesus' message on that day was one of inclusion and acceptance of all people, He had no interest in the seedy underbelly of the political landscape of the time.
Now it's certainly easy to criticize the Israelites and their hostile reaction, particularly with our unique benefit of hindsight. Certainly we wouldn't look to push Jesus off a cliff if He were to appear today would we? Or in keeping up with modern day vernacular and department of worn-out cliches, surely we would never "throw Jesus under the bus?”
Yet if we were to carefully examine our choices and decisions, we would have to agree that at times we try to shape or even manipulate Jesus and His law to our liking and preference as opposed to following His law so that we may be made one with Him. Do you know any Pro-Choice Catholics? How about those Catholics who are in favor of Capital Punishment? The Church's stance on these issues consistently underscore inclusion and respect as reflected in the sanctity of all human life, just as Jesus did on that fateful day.
We're constantly presented with the opportunity to embrace this notion of inclusion and acceptance in our daily lives. The high school in my neighborhood recently offered up a rendition of the ground-breaking Broadway Musical "Rent". Viewed as edgy and controversial when first introduced in 1994, these high schoolers should be applauded for taking on a project of such depth and complexity. But make no mistake, the prevailing theme of "Rent" is about so much more than coping with AIDS or sexual orientation; it's about acceptance, the kind of acceptance that can only be achieved through the outpouring of love. Each character struggles to find their way, and with the help of one another they stumble and stagger along life's journey together, accepting their fate buoyed by faith in each other and faith in their own hazy identities. This message must come to life and echo far beyond the eastern outskirts of Avenue C, affectionately known as "Loisaida Ave." in the local denizen's loosely translated Spanglish take on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where the young cast of "Rent" set out to find their way.
The challenge as always is to exist and thrive in the day-to-day life despite the fact that we are made for and subsequently destined to dwell in eternity with God. How can this be done you might ask? St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians suggests that it can only be done through love, which is more important that any other gift or talent that we may possess:
"For if I have the gift of prophecy, and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge, if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing"
Those of you who have recently borne witness to the Sacrament of Marriage might recognize this passage. Oftentimes referred to as the "Wedding Reading" (1 Corinthians 12:31 - 13:13) young couples choose this scriptural text in order to underscore the love that takes two people and makes them one ("...it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things").
In so many respects, love is a challenge. It's complicated. It seeks out others rather than remaining insular or comfortable. But one thing is for sure: God is love. As we seek Him out in all people and all encounters, we too can become the embodiment of love. Not perfect, but that's OK.
From love all else flows. God's message resonates now as strongly as it always has: "Love one another as I have loved you".
A perfect example of perfect love in an imperfect world.