From Glad to Mad—in the Blink of an Eye
Our weekly Bible study group is currently reading the Gospel of Luke, written around the turn of the first century CE. Luke is religious history (accuracy isn’t important) about the pre-Jesus, told through the metaphor of resurrection. Our group has studied Jesus’s birth, his youth, and his baptism, and now we’re studying his early ministry.
Luke 4:14–15 says, he “returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.” Luke 4:16 tells us, “When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day. . . . He stood up to read” and talked about the Spirit of the Lord who prompted Isaiah to bring good news to the poor, release the prisoners, give sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free (4:18–19).
I think those are great ideas, and so did the congregation: “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth” (Luke 4:22).
Matthew 13:57 and Mark 6:3 end their versions of this story abruptly: “And they took offense at him.” Huh? Both Matthew and Mark went from “astounded” to “took offense” in a couple of verses. Then, Matthew, Mark, and Luke all state that no prophet is welcome on his home turf. I’ll buy that!
Three years after I was ordained, I was invited back to my dad’s large parish to do a preaching mission. I had not been there for twelve years and was now a Marine Corps veteran, seminary graduate, and married with a child. But people still saw me as little Billy, my father’s son. I never went back. No prophet (or hometown kid) is welcome on his home turf.
Luke adds that Jesus told the congregation two short Old Testament stories, and then all hell broke loose—the villagers were “filled with rage” and led Jesus “to the brow of the hill,” presumably to kill him (Luke 4:28–29). However, Jesus slipped through their fingers.
Yikes! Glad to mad in a couple of verses. What happened?
I have had a couple of those glad to mad experiences. In 1967, I returned to my first parish, where I had developed a youth group of some 350 teens before I left to work on my doctorate. In four years, the group had dwindled to forty. So, I was hired to develop programs to bring the teens back. Within two years, there were some 2,500 youth involved in about twenty different youth-centered programs. We received quite a bit of local and national publicity, and Time did a feature article about this youth congregation in their Religion section.
One of our programs was the Youth Theater, which performed provocative plays. We decided to perform one called Viet Rock, an anti–Vietnam War Broadway drama that allowed our youth to deal with war and peace issues. The rector forbade me to stage the play at his church (he had congregants in the war business), so we performed at another church. The play was well accepted. The next morning, the rector fired me for disobeying his orders. How did he go from glad to mad almost overnight?
Thirteen years later, this rector, now retired, wrote me a letter asking for forgiveness. He confessed that he didn’t fire me for disobeying orders—he fired me because he was threatened by all my successes and had to get rid of me because of his jealousy.
Now, I’m not Jesus, nor was I there in Nazareth when the townies raged, but I wonder if the locals turned on him because they were jealous of his popularity and successes? Fortunately, I was only fired. Jesus’s townies wanted to kill him.
I bet some of my readers have had similar experiences. You think you’re doing great, then someone fires you. Want to share your experience?
(PS: I also suspect that what happened in Nazareth might be the reason behind the Jesus family rift, which is the topic of next week’s blog post.)