St Andrew’s Croydon
1st February 2004
Year C 3rd Sunday
The Scandal at Nazareth
Today’s gospel-reading follows straight on from last Sunday. So let’s begin by recalling what happened.
Jesus at the age of thirty, after his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist, returned ‘in the power of the Spirit’ into Galilee where he had grown up. St Luke tells us that he had, by then, established quite a reputation for himself as a powerful preacher, and it seems that he was made welcome by many of the local synagogues to give the Word on the Sabbath.
St Luke goes on to say that one Sabbath he went, perhaps for the first time, to preach in the town of Nazareth where he had been brought up. He chose for his text the words of the Prophet Isaiah where he wrote:
‘The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour’.
And he added ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen’.
Today’s reading continues And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips.
But listen to what happened a few minutes later:
When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crowd and walked away.
So what went wrong? How did they turn so quickly from admiration to deadly hatred?
Well, the first thing to say is that ‘love to hatred turned’ is a much more common experience than most people realise. Many a young couple imagine that ‘being in love’ is the best, indeed the only reason necessary for them to commit themselves to the lifelong obligations of Holy Marriage with all that it implies.
It isn’t. What may be a mere biological attraction, amounting sometimes to an infatuation is not enough by itself to guarantee a life-long commitment to one person ‘to the exclusion of all others’ as the notice on the Registry Office walls, and the words of the Marriage Service in Church both remind us.
Of course one hopes that the feelings of mutual love and affection will remain, and indeed will grow, throughout every marriage, but the sad fact is that those who marry ‘simply for love’ to the exclusion of any other considerations will be those most likely to end up in the Divorce Court a year or two later.
For love, of any kind, is liable to change. The friends you had at school may very well be different from the ones you have now; if your teenage boy- or girl-friend marries someone you don’t get on with for any reason, then it’s likely that you will find your ex-friend’s company less congenial than it used to be. Nothing has actually ‘gone wrong’; what’s happened is that you and your friends have changed, either by growing up, or in the company which you keep and the tastes you have developed in the meantime.
But there is another reason why love grows suddenly cold, or in extreme cases turns to anger, something much more closely related to Jesus and the Nastiness at Nazareth. To understand this let’s look at what Jesus had said in his sermon between the love- and the hate-stage of his relationship with the churchgoers to whom he was preaching.
He’d begun his sermon, remember by telling them that the prophecy of Isaiah was being fulfilled that very day in their midst in his own Person. That made them all feel very pleased with themselves no doubt. Here they were, citizens of an insignificant village in Galilee, suddenly being made to feel very important.
But Jesus went on to tell them that just because they had been given this particular role to play by God, by being the place where God the Son had been led by the Holy Spirit to begin his public ministry, they mustn’t think that their importance in God’s sight meant that he would necessarily continue to treat them in that way for ever and ever. He reminded them that although, yes, the Jewish nation were God’s chosen people, He was just as able to use non-Jews (or ‘Gentiles’) to be his agents, and indeed from time to time had done so: Naaman the Syrian and the widow at Zarephath in Sidon were two examples he gave of this.
In saying this, of course, Jesus was only echoing what John the Baptist had been saying a few weeks before:
‘Do not say to yourselves "We have Abraham for our father (in other words they were real Jews). I tell you that God can make children for Abraham out of these stones here!’
In other words, they weren’t as important and special as they had led themselves to believe.
That experience, which is called ‘Humiliation’ is one which we’ve all no doubt had from time to time. And if there’s one thing which is calculated to turn people from reasonable human beings into bad-tempered animals it’s being humiliated that does it.
But if being told the truth about ourselves involves humiliation, as it did for the people of Nazareth, then it’s surely a good thing. It’s a bitter medicine for sure, but one which, if we take it, will do us more good than almost anything else. The most serious fault that we can suffer from is self-deception, imagining we are more righteous, cleverer or more important than we really are. Humiliation is the bitter pill which ‘cuts us down to size’ again.
To be sure, we are all probably in some way or another more righteous and clever than certain other people: but that’s a matter for God to judge, not ourselves. What we can be absolutely certain of is that most of the time we are not nearly as important in the eyes of our fellow-men as we would like to believe.
But what about in God’s eyes? Yes, in one respect, and for one reason only, each one of us is infinitely important to Him. That is because he has not only created each of us in His own image, but has given his only Son Jesus Christ to die for each one of us in order that we may become like him and share in his Sonship.
In other words, our real importance is rather like a borrowed garment which God allows us to wear in order that we may appear before him, not in our human nakedness, but clothed in the righteousness of His sinless Son. Putting on that garment, like dressing up in military uniform, can, and should, give us a sense of dignity and importance. But let’s never forget that any importance which it may confer upon us is an importance which we have not, and could never have, earned for ourselves. It is the free gift of God himself which has only been made possible by His sacrifice upon the cross, that Sacrifice in which you and I are going to take part in – in just a few minutes time!
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