Jesus went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
… They drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff…. – Luke 4
Yesterday morning my Sunday-school class enjoyed a very helpful discussion around the Luke 4 scripture that details how Jesus came close to starting and ending his preaching ministry pretty much the same day.
After being baptized by John (Luke 3), Jesus went out into the wilderness (Luke 4) to reflect and pray; and – as Rebekah puts it – consider what kind of a Messiah he was going to be.
He returned to Galilee where he “was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him” (Luke 4:15).
The young preacher then went to his home synagogue. He read the scriptures, he added a few comments, he stepped on some toes, and the people – “furious” – dragged him to the edge of the cliffs, and the Jesus story was almost over before it got started.
The Precipice is Real!
So I titled Sunday’s class “When Faith Takes us to the Precipice” because I wanted us to talk about this constant tension we all feel between the comfortable lives we’re trying to carve out for ourselves and what often happens when we follow Jesus.
If I could figure out how – I’m not great with tech – I would embed the PowerPoint slides I used to outline my class (One of the good things about teaching via Zoom is the fact that I can share media directly – plus it helps to keep me on track as a teacher).
I started with these two photographs that show just how much of a “precipice” there is just outside Nazareth. That’s Rebekah, and then me, standing on the edge a few years ago.
Jesus was always “on the edge”
The image prompted me to remind the class just how often Jesus came within an inch of his life. I suggested going through the gospels and noting every time it looked like “the end” for Jesus.
“Sometimes I am surprised our Lord made it three years before he was eventually killed,” I said. “Jesus had a target on his back from the first time he opened his mouth. His very existence threatened the status quo even when he was born, his preaching exacerbated the problem, and it is his intention to do the same today.”
Which begs the question: Are we on the side of good news to the poor? On the side of radical prison reform? On the side of helping the blind recover their sight? On the side of setting oppressed people free? Are we on the side of announcing, “God has some good news y’all are going to want to hear!”?
Or, are we one the side of the status quo?
- We talked about our own tendency, personally, to push back when Jesus brings us too close to the edge.
- We talked about how Jesus makes us uneasy.
- We talked about the cost of discipleship.
- We talked about the story of history, and how The Church so often aligned itself with the government, with power, with the oppressors, and with resistance to justice.
- And we talked about our own investment, personally, in the status quo.
Then we prayed.
Praying is good, it is the first thing we should do, always. But then we must listen, and we must be willing to stand with Jesus, close to the precipice… or at least a little closer than we are now…