Thomas J Parlette
Luke 4: 14-30
Perhaps you noticed that something sounded vaguely familiar about our Gospel reading for this morning. You may remember that we heard part of this passage from Luke just last week.
I chose to repeat the reading from Luke because this story of Jesus being rejected in his own hometown is really one story. But for some reason, our lectionary divides it into two separate readings. But they really do belong together.
I would bet that all of us have experienced rejection of some sort in our life. We’ve all been turned down, told “no, thanks”, or had a door shut in our face. Parents spend years grooming their children for success. Perhaps it would be a better idea to train our children to handle rejection as well because it’s a fact of life. Everyone faces rejection at some point.
Consider J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series of novels. She was rejected by 12 different publishers before her work was accepted. One of them even advised her to “not quit her day job.” Fortunately, she did not listen. To date, her writings have netted her more than 1 billion dollars.
Or how about Elvis Presley. He was fired by Jimmy Denny, the manager of the Grand Ole Opry. He reportedly told Elvis, “You ain’t going nowhere, son. You ought to go back to driving a truck.” But as we all know, Elvis had quite a bit of success in the music world.
Steve Jobs of Apple computing fame was at one time fired by the very company he created. Eventually he was hired back, of course, and Apple went on to become the most profitable company in the world, but even Steve Jobs knew what it was to be rejected.
Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, was rejected 30 times before it was published. Steven Spielberg was rejected 3 times for admission at USC’s School of Theater, Fil and Television. I guess they figured that the guy who would go on to direct Jaws, E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark and Saving Private Ryan, just wouldn’t be able to cut it in the movie business.(1)
Even faithful servants of God get rejected. John Wesley, co-founder of Methodism, preached his message encouraging people to live like Jesus every day in any Anglican Church that would let him in their pulpit. But time and time again, his journal entries say… “on such and such a date, I preached at such and such church, was thrown out and told never to come back.” John Wesley was kicked out of more churches than we can count. Once, he even had to stand on his own father’s grave in order to find a place to preach without the danger of being thrown out of town! (2)
It even happened to Jesus. Jesus was just beginning his ministry. He was about 30 years old. He had been baptized by John the Baptist. You’ll remember that, at his baptism, the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
Almost immediately he was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. But Jesus rejects Satan’s arguments and interpretations of scripture. When today’s story takes place, Jesus has returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him has spread through the whole region. Teaching in their synagogues, he is met with praise everywhere he goes. Until… he returns home.
Luke tells us Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath, and on the Sabbath day he went to 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 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.”
After reading those words, Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him, waiting for what he would say next. And Jesus says simply, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Now, so far, people were impressed with Jesus. He had such presence and gravitas, he spoke with such authority. “All spoke well of him,” Luke says, and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” There was even some hometown pride showing through. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son – what a fine young man he has turned into.” If only Jesus had stopped there.
But Jesus kept talking, and the more he talked, the more displeased his hometown congregation became. “Surely, you will quote me the proverb, ‘Physician heal yourself.’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’ Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them – but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon.”
“And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed – only Naaman, the Syrian.”
Jesus sermon there in Nazareth was met with stunned silence. Then the anger started to build. What is he saying? He is not going to perform any miracles like he did in Capernaum? Why not? This is his hometown – surely we deserve a little special treatment. Is he saying that his theological views have taken him far beyond the small town attitudes that he was brought up with? What, Joseph’s son is too good for us now?
The people in Jesus hometown didn’t understand him at all. Whatever he was saying, it was not what those folks wanted to hear. Luke tells us they were furious. They were so angry that they chased Jesus out of town. In fact, they were so enraged that they took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. “But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”
I’ve always liked that phrase “passed through the midst of them.” Jesus didn’t run away from rejection, he didn’t hide from it, he didn’t fight back. Jesus simply passed through the rejection and anger he was facing for speaking for God’s word – and continued on his way, following God’s way.
When faced with rejection, Jesus passed through it.
Two important words of assurance spring from this story.
First – time heals all wounds. We know that Jesus faced a lot more rejection in his life – even the ultimate rejection, death. But in time, Jesus proved victorious over sin and death. Time heals all wounds. And as some wise philosopher later added – “time wounds all heels.”(3)
Given enough time, God will bring about justice. Persistent hope, persistent faith in the goodness of God will conquer all rejection and resistance. Ask anyone who has made it through a heartbreaking experience, and they will tell you that, if you hang in there long enough, the sun will shine again. Things do get better.
Time is a great remedy for rejection. But an even greater ally is God. The second word of assurance here is that when we walk in the ways of God, we can deal with whatever rejection we face.
In our Old Testament lesson for today, we hear about the young prophet Jeremiah and how he was called to bring the word of God to nation of Judah.
Jeremiah is one of the premier prophets of the Old Testament, and yet he was rejected in the same way as Christ was rejected, and it broke his heart. In fact, he was known as the “Weeping prophet.” Jeremiah had a good reason for weeping.
Jeremiah was called by God to prophesy Jerusalem’s destruction. This destruction, he said would occur by way of invaders from the north. This was because Israel had been unfaithful to the laws of the covenant and had forsaken God by worshiping Baal. The people of Israel had even gone so far as building high altars to Baal in order to sacrifice their children. The nation had strayed so far from God that, in God’s eyes, they had broken the covenant, causing God to withdraw his blessings from them. Jeremiah was guided by God to proclaim that the nation of Judah would be faced with famine. Furthermore, they would be plundered and taken captive by foreigners who would exile them to a foreign land.
So how do you think such a prophecy was received. Not well, not well at all, would be the short answer. The people turned against Jeremiah. They hated him. They banished him. They didn’t want to hear another word from Jeremiah.
Jeremiah could not have endured the isolation and the scorn that was his lot without a deep and abiding faith in God. When he was a young man, the word of the Lord had come to him saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you. I have put my words in your mouth.”
Jeremiah knew that because he was speaking for God, time would prove his assertions true. He had the greatest ally that anyone could have. He was on the side of God. So, in his own way, Jeremiah was able to pass through the midst of the rejection he faced and go on his way – the way of God.
When we face those times when we meet rejection – on a personal level, on a professional level or even when we feel that the values and social norms we hold dear are being rejected, remember this story of Jesus’ rejection. He was able to pass through the midst of them and go on his way because time will heal all wounds and he knew he was following in the path of God.
So may we all.
Come to the table today my friends, and be nourished for the journey. May God be praised. Amen.
1. Dynamic Preaching, Vol. XXXV, No. 1, p25.
2. Homeliticsonline, retrieved 1/24/19.
3. Dynamic Preaching, Vol. XXXV, No. 1, p27.