None of us like to be deceived. Most of us would rather have the truth, even though it may be unpleasant. Most of us would rather our doctor be honest with us even if the news is bad. Or a teacher letting us know when our child is failing rather than let us think all is well. It is better to be troubled by a painful truth than to be consoled with a pleasant lie, but there is one notable exception.
There is a kind of truth that we prefer not to hear. It may be different for everyone, but for many of us there is something we do not want to discuss, we would prefer to just leave alone, let it lie, and pay no attention.
Jesus encountered this attitude in his home town. He had gone there for a visit at the start of His ministry. On the Sabbath, He went to the synagogue. Not surprisingly, He ended up as teacher for the day, and His teaching was well received for the most part. Our reading says all who were present spoke favorably of Him. They marveled at the appealing discourse that came from His lips. But the mood did not last long: very soon it turned from admiration to open hostility.
The change came when Jesus touched on this truth that nobody wants to hear. His words do not seem all that offensive to you and me, all He did was recall two vignettes of Israel’s history. One was from the life of Elijah: a terrible drought was on the land. People were on the verge of starvation, especially the widows and orphans but God sent His prophet to the aid of only one widow and she was not Jewish, she was a Gentile.
The other story was from the life of Elisha. Leprosy was widespread in Israel but God used His prophet to heal only one leper and he was not Jewish, he was a Gentile. Jesus simply pointed out these two facts of history but that was enough to outrage His audience.
We all resent the truth when it contradicts our established way of thinking. This was what offended the citizens of Nazareth: they had always thought of themselves as God’s people, God’s favorites. They truly believed that God preferred them over and above all other nations. This concept had been handed down from generation to generation. It was regarded as axiomatic, no one questioned it. Their nation had been kicked around for centuries; they had been slaves in Egypt, captors in Babylon, and now they were subjects of the Roman Empire. They hated that but they kept their hopes alive by telling themselves that at least God was on their side and someday God would take up their cause.
Then Jesus comes along and told them that God cared about the Romans just as He cared for them. At a time when Jews hated Samaritans and Samaritans hated Jews, Jesus tells a story about the Good Samaritan. At a time when adultery was punishable by death, Jesus told the would-be executioners that if they were without sin then cast the first stone.
He broke so many rules! He healed on the Sabbath. He touched a leper. He forgave sins
He told people how they appeared in the eyes of God, and for many, that was too much for them to bear. Is it any wonder that they killed Him? That was more than they could handle and what made it hard was that, deep down in their hearts, they feared it was true.
Jesus told the hometown crowd exactly what they needed to hear. They were living in too small a world. They were worshipping too small a God. They had already taken the great God of the universe and reduced Him to a tribal deity.
Some of us, without even realizing it, are inclined to do that same thing. We take the God who was revealed to us in Christ, and try to make Him like us: He has our values, looks at the world as do, and if He is not exactly like us at least He is on our side. He is for us, and against them.
It will not do for us to make God in our own image. What chance have we got to grow if we worship a God who is as small as we are? The people of Israel were God’s pets. In times of need, He would come to their aid. In times of conflict, He was always on their side. When all else failed He was the one thing they could count on, no matter what. The Jesus came along and dared to suggest that this idea might not be true. The people in our Gospel knew that they were faced with a call for change: if it really was true that God cared for Gentiles then perhaps it was incumbent upon God’s people to do the same. And that was one thing the people of Nazareth had no desire to do.
When we read the Gospels carefully we find that all of Jesus’ stories, all of His actions, all of His saying are appeals for change. He always called for change for the better, called for us to be more Christ-like to each other. I do not know what it is that Christ is calling you to change: all I know is that He is calling you because on this earth our lives are never perfect, they always need improvement. What is it in your life that you need to change? The way you think? Act?
The question is, how will you respond if you feel the need to change? Like the people in the Gospel who tried to kill Jesus? Or will you be like the people in the responsorial psalm and say, help me, Lord, for You are my hope; in You I place my trust.