Deborah Beach Giordano
© January 30, 2016
as told by Deborah
After leaving the desert and the devil’s temptations behind, Jesus returned to Galilee — and word spread throughout the region. Filled with divine power, his preaching in the synagogues was praised by everyone.
When he came to Nazareth, where he was raised, Jesus went to the synagogue on the sabbath, as usual. When it was his turn to read, he was given the text of Isaiah.
He found the place where it said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me: He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release the imprisoned, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed. He has sent me to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus rolled up the scroll, and sat down. All eyes were focused on him. Then he said, “The scripture you heard has been fulfilled today.”
Everyone was pleased by what he said, but wondered at the words about God’s gracious mercy and compassion.
“Hang on a minute,” someone said, “Isn’t this guy Joseph’s son? How can he make those kinds of statements?”
Jesus sighed, “I’m sure you’ll quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, cure yourself!’ — and say, ‘Do here at home the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ ”
“I’m telling you: prophets have to leave their home towns to be effective. You know there were lots of widows in Israel during Elijah’s time…, yet Elijah wasn’t sent to any of them, but to a widow in Sidon. And there were plenty of lepers in Israel when Elijah was around, but none of them were cleansed — only Naaman the Syrian.”
Hearing this, the whole synagogue exploded with rage. They drove him out of town and to the edge of a cliff, intending to throw him down — but he passed through the crowd and went on his way.
What Just Happened?
This story has always seemed confusing: at first the entire congregation is delighted with Jesus and then, suddenly, they become wildly angry at him. One minute his teachings are received with smiles and nods of encouragement — in the next he’s being thrown out of the building and chased out of town.
Talk about mood swings!
Stranger still, the purported cause of their changed attitude is hardly what you’d call “inflammatory.” After rather obliquely telling the people that he would perform no miracles in Nazareth, Jesus cites two cases from the Scriptures of the prophet Elijah being sent away from home to do God’s work.
It sounds like Logic 1A: supporting a statement with known facts. It isn’t personal and it isn’t nasty. Jesus isn’t questioning their faith, or saying anything negative about the place or its population. He’s not telling them that God doesn’t like them, only that he (Jesus) won’t be performing any dramatic Divine Works while he’s in town.
That is what turns the people against Jesus. They are outraged to find out that there won’t be any miracles.
When Jesus arrived it was like a rockstar had come to town. A persuasive preacher and powerful healer, his name and reputation were known throughout the region — and what went on in Capernaum had really put that place on the map.
Imagine being able to tell those you meet, “I’m from Nazareth. Yes, that Nazareth; where all of those miracles occurred.” And wherever this Jesus went, crowds were sure to follow — which was good for business; the inn would be filled, the market would be busy, wine sales would increase: everybody wins. Besides, who wouldn’t want to be able to say he’d seen a genuine miracle, first hand?
After all that build-up, all that anticipation, all that hope…. they found out that nothing special was going to happen.
It’s not surprising that the congregation in Nazareth was disappointed.
But their reaction went far beyond the norm for disappointment. They went crazy.
The gospel writer tells us that Jesus was “thrown out” of the synagogue. This is not a euphemism for being told, “Get the heck out of here.” The expression carries a sense of physical expulsion — of Jesus being pushed, shoved, perhaps literally tossed out of the building.
But even that was not enough.
The people weren’t finished. It was as if they had been set on fire: anger blazed and spread and in a flash the crowd had become a mob.
They dragged Jesus out of the building, along the streets and out past the end of town where the hillside dropped away. Here they came to a high place from which they planned to throw him down.
Wow. That’s scary.
It’s like at the end of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back when Han Solo is encased in carbonite… We are in suspense: will he or won’t he survive?
And, moreover, will they or won’t they? Will the angry mob succumb to their emotions: will their anger drag them over the edge and smear innocent blood on their hands? They stand on a precipice, a potential turning point: death yawns below them.
Fortunately — perhaps miraculously ☺︎ — Jesus escaped. We are told that he “went through the midst of them and departed.”
The Power of the People
It is no coincidence that we are told of this event in Nazareth immediately following Jesus’ encounter with the tempter in the wilderness. We can see how the shared emotions of the crowd — the “mob mentality” — nearly accomplished the devil’s work by throwing Jesus down from a high place (Lk 4:9).
Unbridled outrage, the wild anger that sees only its own injured pride, leads to destruction. Thoughtless of others, unforgiving, unreasoning, obsessed with vengeance, it kills without remorse. The evils it commits can take many forms: physical assaults, caustic comments, slurs and slams, shoving and slander, lies and deceit. Wild anger burns through families and friendships, communities and countries, and the hearts and hopes of humankind, leaving only ashes behind.
When people are joined emotionally, we create a kind of magnetism, a gravitational pull that affects our surroundings and ourselves. Together we are far more powerful than individually. We’ve just witnessed the near-deadly results of that communal shared-anger in long-ago Nazareth — and we need only read the news to see its toxic power at work today. It can drag us over the edge to our destruction.
Imprisoned and Unseeing
At the end, as the mob shouted and shoved at the edge of the cliff — it was no longer about what Jesus had said; they were wrapped up in rage and resentment: diffuse, widespread, all-encompassing. So blinded were they by their anger, the people didn’t even see the Lord Christ as he walked right past them.
And that’s really scary. And sad.
Call it “mob mentality,” “group think,” or “cultural conditioning” — when we allow ourselves to be swept up in fear or anger or hatred, terrible things can happen. Together we can commit evils on a scale far beyond what a single individual can accomplish on his own. And, throughout, we can be blind to what is being done and who is being hurt.
Jesus’ arrival in Nazareth heralded the fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise. It was a time for rejoicing: God’s grace was abounding, the enslaved and imprisoned would be freed, the blind would see, and what had been lost and bargained away would be restored. And yet, even with the Lord Christ in their very midst, people were imprisoned and unseeing.
It can happen. Good-hearted, well-intentioned people can do great evil. Swept up in anger or fear or confusion, we become lost to ourselves: a mob, an unthinking, unreasoning entity that has no eyes to see nor heart to feel.
It can happen. Let us, through prayer and practice, ensure that it does not happen to us.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
This Week’s Suggested Spiritual Exercises
What feelings are most likely to sway you?
Notice what (and who) tugs at your emotions, and why.
Where is God in these things?