Jerk or Jesus?

Luke 4:16-30

Jesus seemed to have a knack for upsetting others. Today’s pastors are often charged with keeping “cheeks in seats”, something Jesus clearly had no concern with. He was always willing to speak truth and challenge his listeners, regardless of whether it appealed to their sensibilities/beliefs. This is vastly different from the current cultural atmosphere of avoiding offending anyone. It especially differs from my nagging personal fears regarding the opinions and reactions of others.

It’s interesting to note that the listeners were initially enthralled with how Jesus spoke (v.22). But the passage ends with the crowd attempting to kill him. What could Jesus have done that so quickly turned the crowd against him? Was it the manner with which he carried himself? Clearly not, since the passage explicitly says it was the gracious way in which he spoke that drew the crowd in initially! Rather, it was what he said that enraged them.

There’s a distinction between what we say and the way we say it. Paul commands the Colossians to “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt…” (Col 4:6). After Peter instructs that his readers should “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”, he distinctly says to do it “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15-16). There are times where listeners are offended because of the manner in which something is expressed. Often the complaints are legitimate in this regard. I know for a fact I have been guilty of this too many times to count.

Far too often we as believers will, in an attempt to “keep it real”, will lob out emotionally insensitive truth grenades with no regard for the shrapnel that our tongues unleash. Rather than speaking graciously, we will flatly say hurtful things believing that any negative reaction is on the listener. Christians often play the victim card when accused of being insensitive, claiming that people just don’t have “ears to hear” when it’s they themselves that have shut off their ears to the feedback those around them are saying: You’re a jerk. You’re not being like Jesus, you’re just being a jerk. Looking back on my past, I regret how often I’ve been a jerk.

So why is it that the listeners in the passage get angry? Because Jesus, in not so few words says this: God is going to save not just the Jews, but has sent me so that I will pay for the sins of all of humanity. While God clearly chose Israel in the past, He is now using the gospel, a “stumbling block to the Jews”, to save the whole world! It’s why he points to Elisha cleaning a Syrian and Elijah going to Zarephath, who was not a Jew. This little statement turns the crowd against them, but why?

In essence, Jesus is directly speaking against their ethnocentric belief that they were somehow special in the eyes of God because of their bloodline. Jesus combats this throughout the gospels, my favorite example being when John the Baptist says God could make a Israelites out of a couple of rocks on the side of the road if He wanted to!

The issue was not the manner in which Jesus spoke, but the content of what he was saying. Jesus spoke against the ethnocentrism of Judaism in that age and was gracious in how he went about it. Their issue was with what he said, which was true! In this, Jesus is not at fault in his manner or content of speech.

It does not matter if what you say is true if you do so in a way that doesn’t reflect the grace that has been shown to you by your Father. Essentially, if we offend others, are we doing so with what we say or the way that we say it? If you speak truth, you will offend others. Make sure their beef is with God, and not with you.

Our duty is to remain graciously truthful, trusting that the Holy Spirit moves in ways we don’t see. Just as Jesus was faithful to speak truth to those who would want to throw him off a cliff, so must we be willing to be graciously, offensively truthful for the glory of God.

Side Note:
What’s ironic to me is that the crowd couldn’t kill him since it wasn’t Jesus’s time, but that it just says he “passed through their midst” and “went away”. I imagine the old cartoons where there’s a roughhousing going on and Bugs Bunny would just walk out of the fracas unscathed. That’s how I imagine Jesus leaving. Maybe not quite how it played out, but I like to think so.

6 And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom,he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

18  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.

21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23 

And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘“Physician, heal yourself.” What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’” 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away.