Throwing Jesus Off A Cliff

Early in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus gave a quick sermon to his hometown synagogue. By this time, word had already reached home that he had been teaching in synagogues around Galilee and performing many healings and miracles along the way.  I’m guessing — if his mother was anything like my mother — that his hometown was already growing tired of hearing very detailed, exhaustive accounts of these teachings, healings and miracles.  But, I digress.

It is clear that, by the time Jesus arrived in Nazareth, the people were buzzing about his presence.  So, when Jesus stood up in the midst of the congregation and was handed the scroll of Isaiah to read, all eyes were on the informal rabbi, healer of the sick, worker of miracles, and newest local celebrity.  He shared the following passage with them:

“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.”

Then, the Gospel of Luke records, he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.  He told them:

“Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Many would have thought that the crowd would have reacted with indignation or laughter at such a bold self-proclamation from a an uneducated tradesman.  Instead, the crowd reacted with a mix of pride and wonder.  The scripture says that “all spoke well of him and were amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips.”  They reacted like a small community would today seeing one their own exceed the station of his family: “Isn’t this Joseph’s son? He has really made something of himself.”  It is clear that the townspeople were shocked that this untrained man could speak with such authority and grace.  Shocked, but not angry.  At this moment, Jesus was the hometown boy made good, the devout teacher full of miracles and grace — the pride of his people.  I suspect that they didn’t quite concern themselves with the content of his words – how they focused on helping the poor, and the prisoners, and the infirm, and the oppressed – but rather were excited for the second part of the show — namely, the healings and miracles and stuff that Jesus had been performing for other people in other towns.  Surely, the good men and women of Nazareth, who had patted Jesus on the head  and pinched his cheeks when he was a kid, deserved even greater displays of blessings than the mouth-breathers from Capernaum, right?  Right?  After all, these were his people — it was time to step up his game from the withered hands and wine-creating that he had been doing — and show some real displays of God’s power for his hometown! But instead of displays of the power of God, Jesus shared a harsh truth of God:

Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘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,” he continued, “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, their hometown boy and self-proclaimed fulfillment of scripture, just told them that they didn’t have a corner on the market of God’s miracles, his grace, his goodness or his salvation.  He essentially told them that God sometimes chooses people to heal and bless that they wouldn’t approve of.  And, speaking more directly to their situation on that day, that the power and blessing of God do not get displayed on command and are not earned by cultural heritage or religious affiliation.

It turns out that, after communicating this message, Jesus was not so “amazing” anymore.  The congregation at Nazareth, who did not get mad when Jesus proclaimed to them that he was the fulfillment of sacred prophecy, became quite angry when he told them that their community was not particularly special in the eyes of God and were not going to be selected by God for special treatment that day.  Exceedingly angry.  Like radical Muslims watching YouTube angry.

“All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.  They got up, 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.”

Thankfully, for all of us who call ourselves Christians today, Jesus was able to supernaturally avoid the “Thelma and Louise” plan that the good people of Nazareth had devised for him.  But it is fascinating and instructive to determine what made his neighbors so angry.  His hometown congregation did not fly into a holy rage when Jesus proclaimed that he was the fulfillment of scripture, thus laying claim to the most sacred prophecies of their faith.  Their anger, therefore, was not activated by a desire to protect the holiness of God and the sanctity of their scriptures.  Rather, the rage of the people was reserved for when Jesus proclaimed that God chose to bless and save those wholly outside of their cultural and religious community, or, in the case of Jesus’ miracles — their neighbors.  This made them angry.  Jesus was essentially saying to them, “God could have delivered people exactly like you, but he chose to deliver people completely different than you.”  And, “I could have performed miracles in your midst here today, but, instead, I chose to display God’s power in other places to other people.”  Of course, no one in the angry mob considered that Jesus had done something incredibly special in their midst that day — he had revealed to them that he was the fulfillment of scriptural prophecy.  Apparently, the revelation of the Messiah was not nearly as meaningful to them as seeing water turned into wine.

Thus, their anger was actually ignited by not receiving the special treatment that they felt that they deserved from God and his so-called prophet.  It is as if they were saying,  “Go ahead, Jesus, call yourself the Messiah; just don’t tell us that we aren’t special.  If you tell us that you are the fulfillment of ancient prophecy, we will tell you that you are amazing, because you belong to us; therefore, we — by extension — are amazing too.  So bless us, and we will all celebrate our awesomeness together.  But if you tell us that God doesn’t recognize our cultural superiority or our claim to special treatment, and, instead, chooses to bless and heal people who aren’t even worshiping the right way – well, that, Jesus, that will get you thrown off a cliff.[i]

It feels like much of American Christianity has adopted this litmus test today.  The egalitarian nature of God’s love and mercy continues to rub many of us the wrong way.  Many American Christians still struggle with feeling like we have a cultural claim to the blessings and mercy of God.  It seems that our religious culture has replaced our relationship with God as the thing that we boast about.  Religious Pride defines us more than Religious Faith.  I can only imagine how quickly many churches would gas up their air-conditioned buses in order to drive Jesus off a cliff if he showed up and told them that God had chosen to deliver from terrible circumstances people from different cultures and faiths instead of delivering them.  Or if he was fresh off of a healing tour of Muslim orphanages in Africa but chose to “simply teach” when He got to our mega-churches.

How quickly would we conspire to get a rope, or a cliff, or a cross if our arrogant opinion of our own cultural worth were challenged by Jesus? I am sure that we would come to the same conclusion as his friends at Nazareth — Jesus needs to be thrown off a cliff.  And in so doing, what we truly worship would be revealed — the cult of our own creation — American Christian Culture.

[i] Some three years later, of course, the people of his home country managed to successfully kill him on another hill overlooking another town — and it is clear in scripture that many of the reasons that he was crucified were similar to the reasons he was assaulted in Nazareth.

All quoted Scripture is from Luke 4:14-30. New International Version.

About David Davies, Editor-in-Chief

David Davies is the Editor-in-Chief of Media Rostra. He is also a lawyer and a licensed minister, so he is basically distrusted by everyone on some level. He received his Political Science degree from the University of Tulsa and his Juris Doctor from the University of Arkansas. He is a former Assistant Attorney General for the State of Arkansas, a former "good athlete for his size," and current owner of The Law Offices of David Davies, PLLC -- an Estate Planning and Elder Law firm that has offices in Arkansas and Tennessee. He co-authored, with fellow editor, Aaron Brooks, the article entitled: “Exploring Student-Athlete Compensation: Why the NCAA Cannot Afford to Leave Athletes Uncompensated," in the University of Notre Dame’s Journal of College and University Law.