Our Collect asks that we may honor God with all our mind and love everyone in truth of heart. That sounds wonderful—but our Gospel illustrates how difficult that actually is.
Those neighbors of Jesus who had come to synagogue that Sabbath, didn’t they believe they were there to honor God with all their mind? Apart from those who may have showed up out of habit or peer pressure, surely they presumed that’s why they were there. And when Jesus interpreted the scriptures for them, wasn’t he motivated by love for them and their good?
But what feelings did Jesus fight when they were ready to throw him to his death? And how set were their minds on God when they turned on him?
Does today’s Gospel tell us how this happens? Can it help us recognize when things are beginning to go wrong in ourselves?
Certainly the people who dismissed Jesus, saying, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”—that is, a mere carpenter—were not seeing or hearing the actual person but a lack of qualifications. They had lost the capacity to be surprised, to trust their own experience. They had replaced listening and receptivity or thoughtful judgment with slogans. Slogans shun challenge, supporting my pet prejudices. Slogans reduce life to simplistic either/or.
Jesus assumes a very different posture. He’s threatened by these people, yet he does not shun them and does not hold back the challenge they need to hear, referring to the well-known examples of Elijah and Elisha. That may not sound like love to this crowd, but it is for their own good that he speaks, giving them the chance to wake up and change their perception. He’s not opting for either/or but is holding together the tension of animosity and love.
It is significant, I believe, that one day a crowd will succeed in killing him, not by throwing off a hill, but crucifying him on a hill. Then we will see in Chapter Twenty-three of Saint Luke’s Gospel Jesus once again stretched between opposites, hanging between heaven and earth, flanked by the thief who curses him, on the one hand, and the thief who believes in his power to save, on the other hand. Isn’t it the same on that day, as in today’s Gospel: choosing the path of powerlessness, doesn’t Jesus walk as confidently through the valley of death as he does through the midst of this crowd?