This week our gospel lesson picks up right where our lesson last week left off with one verse shared in common. The people aren’t too pleased with what Jesus has to say. Rather than merely omit the "Nice sermon, rabbi!" on the way out the door of the synagogue the people have much more sinister intent. The mood of the text takes a decidedly negative turn as Jesus' hearers try to toss him off a cliff.
Then [Jesus] 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 hometown 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 hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up 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.
When I was of a younger demographic (early 70s—year not age) I remember watching Batman reruns with Adam West and Burt Ward. The episodes came in pairs. The first ½ hour would end with Batman and Robin in some deadly yet slow moving trap. They would be tied to the cog of a clock or in a cage slowly sinking underwater. Their utility belts would always be in plain sight yet out of reach—taunting them. The episode would end with an invitation to tune in again—"Same bat time—same bat channel."—so that we could see how the dynamic duo would cheat death this time. This kind of transition between the two shows is called a cliffhanger as there is often someone left dangling off the edge of a cliff until the heroic border collie or faithful dolphin or whatever other amazing animal comes to save the day.
Our text doesn't seem to understand the artistic and cinematic genius of the two episode cliffhanger. The text shifts from everyone being amazed at Jesus' teaching in the synagogue (last week's reading) with people rejecting Jesus and threatening to dangle him off a cliff—and then let go) (this week's reading). Rather than build up some tension with a slow-moving threat the crowd lunges at Jesus and take him to the edge of the cliff. But then, with seemingly no resistance whatsoever, Jesus walks through the crowd and goes on his way. He didn't even need a utility belt or a thundering affirmation from heavenly voices or a legion of angels. This really doesn't make for good cinema or TV.
But that's really the point. Jesus doesn't come to fill our expectations—as person, as dramatic figure or as Messiah. Jesus comes to do what is needed and what God requires. And apparently that ministry includes reaching out to widows and lepers from foreign lands. When Jesus reveals God's lavish grace and generosity to seeming enemies it can be more than seems able to be borne.
Think of someone who has hurt you deeply. Think of someone who has perpetrated some ghastly crime. God has love and grace for that person. God would be reconciled and at peace with such a person. God would desire that even if it caused you discomfort. The discomfort that you experience is nothing compared to the lash and thorns and nails that Jesus endured. That is the unsettling grace and beauty of Jesus' passion.
God, give us love for those who are different and threatening to us. Help us spend less time manufacturing spiritual drama and more time steeping ourselves in the greatest story ever told—Jesus' life and death; ministry and passion. Help us bear that story to whoever needs it regardless of their reaction or the reaction of those around us.