Like most people, I will be glued to my television tonight; I’ll be watching the Super Bowl and eating onion dip like a good American. The NFL is a huge concern, and its fastest growing demographic is women. “More women (50.4 million) tuned in to the Big Game than watched the Oscars (24.5 million), Grammys (23.8 million) and Emmys (8 million), according to Nielsen. The Super Bowl’s female audience has more than doubled from only five years ago, and the last three Super Bowl broadcasts have set records for being the most-watched shows by female viewers. The previous record was held by the 1994 Winter Olympics figure-skating showdown between Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding.”1 Like Tonya Harding, some of us will be filled with wrath by the time the game is over, depending on who wins. Our wrath will have nothing, however, on the people of Nazareth we just heard about.
If this week’s Gospel sounds suspiciously like last week’s Gospel, then good for you, you’ve been paying attention. This week we get the continuation of the story we began last week, the story of Jesus heading back to His hometown, preaching a very short sermon at His Synagogue, and essentially claiming that all of Scripture is about Him.
This is not ordinary stuff, what we’re talking about here. We talked last week about what our reaction to this would be if it were true, if Jesus did indeed fulfill all Scripture. Luke tells us today about what the reaction was that day.
First, they were perplexed. “Is this not Joseph’s son?” That’s the almost nice way of saying “Who the heck does this guy think he is?” Jesus, not oblivious to any of this, tried to nip the problem, saying basically that it’s OK, He understands that y’all aren’t with Him on this. But Luke tells us that this didn’t have the desired effect, that “when they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath.” And to prove how ticked off they really were, they herded Jesus to the bluff, like taking Him down Prince Street, past the statue of Thomas Paine and over that wrought iron fence, with the intention of tossing Him over to His death. The only hill steep enough in Nazareth to do such a thing was at the southwest corner of the city, where it now hangs over a Maronite convent.2 It’s certainly high enough that death would be the most likely outcome, but in a strange twist to the Law, if a crowd casts someone off a cliff and he dies, no one in the crowd is technically liable for the life of the victim. It’s like dunking an accused witch in a barrel of water, and if she drowns, well, she wasn’t a witch, but that’s not the fault of the dunker.
It wasn’t to be, however, all this casting off of cliffs. “But passing through the midst of them he went away,” wrote Luke, forever capturing the imaginations of boys who wonder if Jesus had an invisibility cloak of some sort. It was quite literally a miracle that Jesus got out of there alive, but the real meat of this story is found in the wrath.
We might not think that we would ever get angry with Jesus, but in reality, it happens all the time. We come across something about Him or something He said and we just don’t like it, most of the time because the attribute or saying in some way condemns us. Even hearing the words He spoke to us over the last two weeks, that the entirety of the mercy and love and freedom found in God was and is fulfilled in Jesus can be, in its way, maddening; all of that love and mercy and freedom in turn demands something of us, a reaction from us, the reaction of using our freedom to practice love and mercy, which is easier said than done.
Our occasional anger or frustration with Jesus is not a bad thing; in fact, I think it’s just a normal part of any relationship with someone you love. Jesus can deal with it, as long as you keep at Him, as long as you keep hearing His voice, letting Him challenge you, change you.
As for me, I’ll be taking my wrath out on some onion dip, and praying that when the Lord tells us something we don’t want to hear, we’ll remember to hear the Jubilee, the love, mercy, and freedom that come with His word.
1Michael McCarthy, Womens’ Top Watched Show is Not What You Think, Ad Age,http://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/nfl-continues-score-women-viewers/237374/
2Robertson’s Word Pictures. http://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/robertsons-word-pictures/luke/luke-4-29.html