Telling the truth about the Church’s mission is not always popular. We would rather believe smooth things. That is also true about everyday life. We believe the myths about the wars our country fought, fabrications about our beloved sports team, fantasies about our favorite political party, self-delusions about our best-loved foods and stories about our own generation.
For a moment let’s set aside our natural tendency to be fearful of the truth. Let’s courageously face the facts, no matter where they lead.
Let’s examine Luke 4:21-30 and see how Jesus got himself into trouble simply by preaching the truth.
Luke 4:21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. 23 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.’” 24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 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. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 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.” 28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 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. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
(Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.)
1. Why were Jesus’ Townspeople so Angry at Him? (vs. 23-29)
In his hometown synagogue Jesus announced that the good news preached in Isaiah 61 of freedom, sight, delivery and the year of the Lord’s favor was fulfilled in their hearing. Did Isaiah’s prophecy only apply to Zion? Jesus corrected any such parochial attitudes. “Physician heal yourself” implies healing only neighborhood people, like people who only give to local charities. Jesus reminded them of Elijah and Elisha, where God provided for a foreign widow and a diseased foreigner before their own people. Did they want God’s favor just for them? Did Jesus’ words sound like national betrayal perhaps contradicting their understanding of Isaiah? Is that why they wanted to kill him? Does it offend us that God’s plan includes all people?
2. Is Hatred of Foreigners Christian?
Xenophobia is a fear of strangers. It is a cheap and cowardly way to win votes in an election. The Nazis used similar tactics. Fear is not Christian. There is no fear in love (1 John 4:18). Christians are brave and bold in their love for strangers. Cowardliness paves the way to hell (Revelation 21:8). There is no place for ignorant prejudice and fear. It is that precise attitude that Jesus challenged. One common thread runs through all cultures worldwide: people just want to live, love, laugh and have happiness. Cowardly bigotry and hatred stops us from experiencing the delightful variety within God’s wonderful creation and hinders the message of the Gospel which must go to all people.
3. Can Telling the Truth be Dangerous?
Why are scientists who criticize macroevolution discredited? Why is anybody who contradicts popular beliefs disparaged? Why do political parties continually attack each other? Why do journalists stir up politics and public debates to make them worse? Why does the media only seem to report right to life supporters in the negative? Why are those who tell of our national sins, military mishaps, political and industrial corruption, our terrible treatment of the poor, numerous ethnic groups, the sick and immigrants vilified. Why, when people are brave enough to address such themes are they hounded off the air, boycotted, falsely accused and made to look stupid. Could it be that, like Jesus’ home crowd, most of us don’t like hearing the truth?
4. Do we want a Church that Just Panders to Us?
Does the church just exist to cater to us? The people of Nazareth seem to have thought that because Jesus was a hometown boy, he would cater to them. Were they disappointed! What is our mission? In commissioning the apostles, Jesus would later tell them that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came on them. They would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Church is not an inward-looking club. It has a mission that first begins locally, and expands to the region and from there to the whole world. If that offends us too, then do we need to allow the Holy Spirit to realign our thinking?
Telling the truth may never be popular. Hatred of foreigners is as popular now as it has ever been. Let’s set aside our natural tendency to be fearful of strangers. Let’s courageously embrace them and boldly accept the Church’s mission which has never has been just local or even national but has always been worldwide.