February 3, 2019: "How to Get Thrown Off a Cliff"
February 3, 2019 Rev. Rhonda Abbott Blevins, DMIN
How to Get Thrown Off a Cliff
[Jesus] 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.
This story is a real cliffhanger. J
As we dive into this text today, let’s begin by considering different ways to read the Bible. “What do you mean ‘ways to read the Bible?’ You just read it!” Not so fast. An atheist student reading the Bible as part of an ancient literature class would read the Bible differently than, say, a monk. Let me explain.
There are two overarching ways to read the Bible. The first is reading the Bible for information—for content mastery—a brain or cerebral exercise. The second way to read the Bible is for formation—allowing the text to form us, shape us, change us—this is a heart or spiritual exercise. One way to do formational reading is by using the Ignatian Method, named after Saint Ignatius of Loyola, who lived in the 1500’s and founded the Jesuit Society. With the Ignatian Method, you use your imagination to place yourself inside the biblical story. For instance, you imagine yourself on the boat with the disciples when Jesus walked on water—feeling the cold wind and tasting the salt air. You’re at the party where he turned the water into wine—you
feel the warmth of the wine coursing through your veins, you taste its succulence on your lips. Many of us connect with the Bible on mostly a cerebral level—the Ignatian Method involves our emotions, our whole being, allowing us to be formed—transformed—by the text.
Today I want to invite you to engage the Ignatian Method as you hear the text one more time. Find yourself sitting among the crowd at the synagogue in Nazareth. What do you see? Smell? Feel? What emotions do you experience as Jesus is handed the scroll and begins to read:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor. (Yay!)
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives (Yay!)
and recovery of sight to the blind, (Yay!)
to let the oppressed go free, (Yay!)
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Hip, hip, hooray!)
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Uh, what?)
Then Jesus continued (my paraphrase):
“Now, I know you’re going to say to me, ‘”Do all those cool signs and wonders here that you did in Capernaum.’” (Uh oh.)
He went on to remind them of the scandalous stories from the Hebrew scriptures in which Elijah and Elisha ministered to—wait for it—foreigners. “Yikes! Foreigners? Do you mean to tell me that those vermin will receive God’s blessing and we won’t?” So some of them probably scolded Jesus, “Boy, you’re getting above your raising!” Others may have invoked the civil religion of Israeli exceptionalism, “Blasphemy!” Until finally words didn’t seem adequate to deal with this level of treachery, and one of them yelled, “Throw him off a cliff!” Mob rule took over and pretty soon they took him to the edge of town.
Why were they so provoked? If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years of ministry, if you want people to throw you off a cliff, just challenge their sense of entitlement.
You see, these folks believed that they were God’s chosen race. “Not a Jew? Too bad for you. God’s blessing is for us and us alone.” Jesus challenged this ideology with examples from the scriptures they knew well. They apparently weren’t used to their sense of entitlement being challenged.
Entitlement is a heckuva thing.
This week I was thinking about these pitiful folks from Nazareth and their epic sense of entitlement as I walked into the Starbucks where I often go to write my sermons. It was terribly crowded. The couple of available seats were at the laptop bar (or whatever you call it) between two groups of people talking together quite loudly. The reason there were no two-toppers available was that there was a woman, sitting alone with her laptop, and she had pushed two two-toppers together so she could spread out over both tables. “How rude!” I thought to myself. I found my seat between the loud talkers, giving this woman the “stink eye” the whole time. “Speaking of entitlement!” I muttered under my breath. “Some people!” And just about then it hit me—the reason I was miffed was—wait for it—MY OWN SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT! I DESERVED THAT TABLE!
Entitlement is a heckuva thing! We walk around noticing the shameful sense of entitlement in other people while we’re completely oblivious to our own. How did Jesus say it? “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matt. 7:3)
Entitlement, quite simply, is the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment. I was entitled to that table at Starbucks. The crowd in this story felt entitled to God’s blessing first, and perhaps unilaterally. They were hoarders of God’s handouts!
Speaking of hoarders, have you ever watched that show, “Hoarders?” (I would watch it if only I could get to my TV.) When it was on, if ever I felt bad about my life or irritated with the toys all over the floor, I would just turn on “Hoarders,” watch with incredulity and instantly feel better about myself. At first you imagine the show will be amusing, “Ha ha—look at all that junk!” In actuality the show is downright sad. People threatened with losing their homes, their kids, even their lives because they can’t let go.
But are they so different than us? They hoard stuff. The crowd in Jesus’ hometown hoarded God’s blessings. And any time we’re self-aware enough to recognize it, we do too. But the fact of the matter is we all came into this world the same way—naked and broke. If now we’re anything but naked and broke, it’s by the grace of God. When we recognize how incredibly blessed we already are, we don’t feel the need to hoard God’s blessings for ourselves. Brene Brown puts it this way, “What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.” When gratitude becomes a way of life instead of a transactional quid pro quo, we no longer walk around expecting the world to hand us things. We’ve already got everything we need—thank you—very much.
Jesus rubbed up against the crowd’s sense of entitlement that day, and it almost got him killed. As for them, they sadly rejected Jesus’ teaching that day, and so far as we know, they never claimed the truth Jesus proclaimed.
I close with a story.
A wealthy man and his son loved to collect rare works of art. They had everything in their collection, from Picasso to Raphael. They would often sit together and admire the great works of art.
When the Vietnam conflict broke out, the son went to war. He was very courageous and died in battle while rescuing another soldier. The father was notified and grieved deeply for his only son.
About a month later, there was a knock at the door. A young man stood at the door with a large package in his hands. He said, “Sir, you don't know me, but I am the soldier for whom your son gave his life. He saved many lives that day, and he was carrying me to safety when a bullet struck him in the heart and he died instantly. He often talked about you, and your love for art.” The young man held out the package he carried, “I know this isn’t much. I’m not really a great artist, but I think your son would have wanted you to have this.”
The father opened the package. It was a portrait of his son, painted by the young man. He stared in awe at the way the soldier had captured the personality of his son in the painting. The father was so drawn to the eyes that his own eyes welled up with tears. He thanked the young man and offered to pay him for the picture. “Oh, no sir, I could never repay what your son did for me. It’s a gift.”
The father hung the portrait over his mantle. Every time visitors came to his home, he took them to see the portrait of his son before he showed them any of the other great works he had collected.
The man died a few months later. There was to be a great auction of his paintings. Many influential people gathered, excited over seeing the great paintings and having an opportunity to purchase one for their collection.
On the platform sat the painting of the son. The auctioneer pounded his gavel. “We will start the bidding with this picture of the son. Who will bid for this picture?”
There was silence. Then a voice in the back of the room shouted, “We want to see the famous paintings. Skip this one.”
But the auctioneer persisted, “Will somebody bid for this painting? Who will start the bidding? $100, $200?”
Another voice said angrily, “We didn’t come to see this painting. We came to see the Van Gogh’s, the Rembrandts. Get on with the real bids!”
But still the auctioneer persisted. “The son! Who’ll take the son?”
Finally, a voice came from the very back of the room. It was the longtime gardener of the man and his son. “I'll give $10 for the painting.” Being a poor man, it was all he could afford.
“We have $10, who will bid $20?”
A voice from the crowd: “Give it to him for $10. Let's see the masters.” The crowd was becoming angry.
The auctioneer pounded the gavel. “Going once, twice, SOLD for $10!”
A man sitting on the second row shouted, “Now let’s get on with the collection!”
The auctioneer laid down his gavel. “I’m sorry, the auction is over.”
“What about the paintings?” the crowd yelled in outrage.
“I am sorry. When I was called to conduct this auction, I was told of a secret stipulation in the will. I was not allowed to reveal that stipulation until this time. Only the painting of the son would be auctioned. Whoever bought that painting would inherit the entire estate, including the paintings. The man who claimed the painting of the son gets everything!”
Likewise, the one who claims the teachings of the Son gains the Kingdom.
 To read more about the Ignatian Method: https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/scripture-engagement/ignatian-method/home or https://www.upperroom.org/resources/the-ignatian-method-of-prayer