By Father Casey
Famed author and preacher Barbara Brown Taylor tells a story about a retreat she once attended, at which the facilitator invited everyone to share a story about someone who had been Christ in their lives. One by one, people stood up and started telling stories. One person spoke about a friend who had stayed with her throughout a long illness, though everyone else deserted her. Another person talked about someone who’d stepped into the role of father when his own father had left. The room was aglow with stories of comfort, compassion, and love.
As they were winding down, a woman in the back of the room stood up and said, with some reluctance, “Well, the first thing I thought about when I tried to think who had been Christ to me was, ‘Who in my life has told me the truth so clearly that I wanted to kill him for it?’”
You can imagine how quickly the feel-good deflated from that room. Most Christians I know prefer to think of Jesus as the giver of hugs and pep-talks, someone who tells us we’re great no matter what, and would never make us uncomfortable. But what that woman said contained a powerful and important truth: Jesus is not only the one who comes to comfort and rescue us. Jesus is also the one who speaks the truth so clearly to us that people killed him for it.
That is what happened on the day of Jesus’ first sermon in Nazareth. Last week we heard the part of the story when he reads from the prophet Isaiah: “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.” According to Luke, most folks liked what he had to say.
Up to a point.
Because Jesus goes on to tell them two more stories from Scripture—the story of the widow in Zarephath, and the tale of Naaman the Syrian. These stories are ones where God’s favor falls on unlikely, even hated, “outsiders.” They like this a whole lot less. The mere suggestion that God might care about people they view as detestable is so shocking, that in the blink of any eye, this sweet little congregation gathered for weekly worship turns into a lynch mob, ready to throw Jesus off a cliff.
These are not bad people. Jesus grew up in this village, so these are people with whom he shared nearly 30 years of life, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. And yet, they simply couldn’t fathom that God’s reign of mercy and love might include their hated enemies. Again, they weren’t bad, but the poison of bias had seeped into their souls and it was strangling their spiritual and moral imagination.
Think about it. When someone tells you your moral imagination is flawed or anemic, do you politely accept their critique? Or do you behave more like the people of Nazareth, spewing a litany of “how dare you’s” and “who the &%#@ do you think you are?!”
There is plenty of rage in our society these days. Rage on social media and cable news. Rage at school board meetings and on airplanes. Rage at restaurants and the checkout counter. And sadly, quite a lot of that rage is brandished by Christians who are angry at a changing world, a world they thought they knew but now seems different in ways that make them uncomfortable, and they seem just as likely to unleash that rage as everyone else.
Which is why it’s so important to remember how Jesus occasionally comes to us in the person who tells us the truth so clearly that we want to throw him off a cliff. Sometimes Jesus is not interested in doling out hugs and pep talks, but rather challenging us with painful truths and provoking us to grow up in ways that are hard. We would do well to pause before letting our anger get the better of us, because maybe the anger is just our sinful nature resenting the idea that we have to change.
At the end of the story, Jesus passes through the midst of the people and goes on his way. The people of Jesus’ own hometown were unwilling to be challenged, unwilling to change or grow, unwilling to believe anything new or different about God. And so, Jesus couldn’t stay in the midst of them. He had to move on.
May he find in us a more welcoming place to dwell, and may we have the grace to recognize and embrace his truth, even when it first makes us want to throw him off the cliff.
 Barbara Brown Taylor, Home By Another Way (Cowley: Cambridge, 1999), 42.