(Grave of Rodney Dangerfield, Mr. "I don't get no respect," courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
Daily Office Readings for Sunday, May 6, 2012:
Psalms 24,29 (Morning)
Psalms 8, 84 (Evening)
Leviticus 8:1-13, 30-36
Luke 4:16-30 (NRSV):
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 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 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.
Today's Gospel is the one familiarly misquoted in our secular jargon as "A prophet is without honor in his hometown." It's one any of us who came from small town America and left for the bright lights in the big city for any length of time probably has our own personal version to recount.
Show of hands, please...anyone heard a variation on one of these before?
"Don't be acting all high and mighty; I've known you since you were a little fool of a child."
"I know you--you're Joseph's boy. You ain't nothin' special."
"I heard what you did in Capernum, when are you going to get around to helping anyone here?"
Yep, I thought so.
As much as I loved my late grandmother, I can still hear the "stingers" she shot my way now and then, like the time I overheard one of her friends evidently asking some sort of medical question, soliciting some roundabout advice. "Oh, she doesn't know anything about it unless it's in a jar or cut up in little pieces to put under her microscope. Don't even bother asking her."
The flip side, of course, is almost out of the same breath, small town America loves to tout their famous faces and link them to their hometown places. Marceline, MO is the hometown of Walt Disney. Little ol' Clark, MO claims the birth of General Omar Bradley. For school children in northeast Missouri, the knowledge of Hannibal, MO as Mark Twain's hometown is etched in our DNA.
It's an interesting duality, isn't it?
One of the disadvantages we have in fully understanding the Jesus story is we get the luxury of seeing it in hindsight. We tend to think (now, put on your best imitation of Chris Rock's voice, here...) "I mean, this is JESUS! Who wouldn't like Jesus?" It clouds us from understanding the possibility that Jesus might have been seen a little differently in the Nazareth street chatter. They would have seen that Jesus more or less had ditched several of his family to follow this call as a prophet and healer. That in and of itself wasn't the most laudable occupation of those times. The street corners were full of "prophets" claiming all sorts of crazy things, and huckster "healers" of the tent revival variety were a dime a dozen. People who knew Jesus as a teenager probably remembered a very different form of Jesus we think we know now. I've yet to see any artistic renditions of a pimply-faced Jesus whose voice cracked when he opened his mouth, with smelly teenaged-boy feet. No one in Nazareth would have nominated him to be the illustration in the picture dictionary under the word "Messiah."
In that light, Jesus would have been a person who seemed, in some ways, to have rejected the way of life that the folks from Nazareth prized as a "good citizen." He might have even seemed to be crazy or downright dangerous. They would have been sure they knew "who he was," or at the very least, who they expected him to be, and what they were seeing was definitely not it.
Our story in Luke reminds us that there are going to be times that people who believe they know us, and a few people who actually love us very much, that even when we are truly and earnestly following Christ, are not always going to perceive us as overly "Christian." Also, the truth is, as fallible people, we get it wrong sometimes. That gets muddy, when we recognize there are also times we think we are truly following Christ and we were actually following our egos. The painful truth is that following Christ and living out some shocking truths won't always be well received, and sometimes it will be resisted with reminders of the times we got it smashingly wrong. It might even get us a hair's breadth from being hurled off the metaphorical cliff. How willing are we to engage the truth at that price?