Luke 4

Tossing Jesus Off A Cliff

…And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

The group is excited because they are anticipating that Jesus is going to not only do great things among them, but probably even going to give them a little extra. Like when you go to a restaurant and know the server and they tend to your table a little more than others and bring you a birthday dessert even though it is not your birthday. This town is looking to get the hook up, as the kids say.


Jesus says that in fact God has a history of giving favors to people other than the chosen ones. Jesus cites two times when Elijah and Elisha both were sent not to the chosen people but to the foreigners.

The people around Jesus got super angry and move to give him the death of a heretic. All because Jesus reminded them that God is less interested in giving the “extra good stuff” to the chosen ones and more interested in integrating the ones that the people of God thought were downright unrepentant sinners.

Imagine a group of people agreeing that they are in the right, that Jesus should take care of them first, because he is one of them, and they are the majority. Jesus says he is not going to do that but go to the hated minorities. Perhaps people cry out, but we are the majority Jesus and we are the faithful ones! Jesus might have reminded them that they should be the first ones to understand why he is to go integrate the minority. Instead of seeing that grace compels us to move beyond what we identify as kosher or orthodox, they decided to drive Jesus off a cliff.

But that was a long time ago.

Hometown Jesus is rejected

Here is a brief recap of the sermon from yesterday on the scripture of Luke 4:21-30.

We have a habit of defining ourselves by who or what we are not. It is easy to do. For instance, we might not want to be the one who chooses what you want to eat for lunch but we are much more comfortable being the one who says what we don't want for lunch. The same is true for defining our own selves. We would rather define who we are not rather than who we are. 

Defining who you are by who you are not sounds something like: "I would not ever take a home loan I could not pay back." or "I would never do what those soldiers did in Abu Ghraib" or "I would never protest a funeral." We define who we are by who we are not all the time. 

The thing about defining who we are by who we are not is that we always have someone to blame for the tension or problems in the world. It is always the "other" person who is the cause of the problem, and as we all know, "I would never do what they did." 

Luke tells us a story in which Jesus gets himself into trouble. 

Jesus reads a scroll and everyone is very proud that Jesus is their "homegrown boy". If they had water towers in Jesus' day the town of Nazareth might have been one step away from inscribing "Home of Jesus" on their water tower.  Jesus is "their guy" and the group is unified in it's understanding of who they are - they are not the fools who will not be a part of the year of the Lord's favor.

Jesus sees they are united as a group, believing they will ask him to do what he did in other areas, Jesus reminds the crowds of two other prophets who were also were "on their side" but these two prophets went to the gentiles. That is to say, the Jesus tells them that Elijah, Elisha and even Jesus are defining the people of God not as different from other groups but as all equal in the sight of God. 

As soon as Jesus tells his hometown that even the gentiles (the other) will be a part of the "Lord's favor", the group (mob) is filled with rage.

Prior to Jesus talking, this mob knew who to blame for their problems and the tension in the world - "those people". But Jesus is saying that "those people" are also beloved by God... just like them. Jesus is saying that those people are like you and you are like them. Jesus is saying that there is no "us" and "them" there is only a "we". 

In the absence of a "them" the "us" do not know who to blame for the tension in the culture. This is true today. Part of the fear to give citizenship to "illegals" is because we then would be without a "them" to blame any number of problems on. The words of Jesus removed the "them" for the Jews in his hometown and they were filled with rage. But they do not know how to resolve tension in the culture without a "them" to blame it on. So, right there in the temple, without a "them" to blame the mob blames him - Jesus.  

Jesus is the problem for the tension now. All was well, everyone knew who was the "them" was but Jesus just said the "them" is just like us. Without a "them" to blame for tension the mob turns on Jesus and blame him. They then treat him as they have always treated the "them" - they treat Jesus as their new scapegoat. 

What happens next is they lead Jesus to the edge of town to kill him, just as one would with a traditional scapegoat found in Leviticus 16

Jesus walks through the mob, I imagine, with the prayer "Forgive them for they know not what they are doing."

God in Jesus exposes the fact that humanity is caught up in cycles of violence and always looking for the next scapegoat to resolve tension. And this cycle is so powerful that we would even kill a home town boy. We would even kill God.