February 3, 2019

Brief synopsis of the readings: Our first reading outlines the call of the prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” God then instructed Jeremiah to stand up “and tell them all I command you.” God promised to give him all that needs to confront “the kings of Judah.” God then told him: “They will fight against you but shall not overcome you.” Luke’s Gospel continues from last week. Last week Jesus told those gathered that Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah was fulfilled in himself. This week those gathered grumbled that Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah because he was Joseph’s son. They then dragged him to a cliffside with the intent to throw him off the cliff. But “then he slipped through the crowd and walked away.”

In my work as a hospice chaplain I often describe the experience of being a friend or family member of a hospice patient this way: It’s like being on a roller coaster and you’re blindfolded. You have no control over the speed and you can climb, drop, or veer (right or left) with absolutely no notice. All you can do is hang on and hope that we and our loved ones will be cared for.

In some ways we experience this in our journey as Christians. When we decide to follow Jesus (at whatever age we do this) we sign onto a life that will lead us in directions we can never imagine. For all that we know, for all that we believe, for all that we hope for, our journey is not in our hands. We are led by a power greater than ourselves.

Last week we read about Jesus reading in the Temple where he read from Isaiah. That passage foretold the coming of the Messiah and Jesus finished by telling them that this passage has been foretold in their hearing.

I’m sure many of them heard these words and expected the next line to be: “and they all lived happily ever after.” Jesus spoke the words they had longed to hear for generations. By this time in Jewish history, in no small part because of Roman occupation, they imagined a Messiah that would solve all of their problems. This Messiah would expel the Romans and restore the Kingdom of David.

But there were also some in the crowd who were skeptical, and even downright angry. Jesus then made them angrier by speaking of the suffering of good people. But when they were on the verge of killing Jesus, he escaped. What are we to make of this?

I recently had the opportunity to see the 1998 movie Deep Impact. In this movie scientists learn that a large comet was on course to collide with earth and cause an E.L.E. (extinction level event) which will destroy nearly all life on earth. They recognized its seriousness because it would mimic the asteroid that struck earth 65 million years ago and killed approximately 75% of all life (including the dinosaurs).

They immediately started work on a manned rocket that would enter the comet, deposit nuclear bombs, and knock the comet off course. I’m writing about this because they called the ship “Messiah” in the hopes that it would save them. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work. I recommend the movie because it’s a good movie, but suffice it to say that (at least at first) it didn’t do what they hoped and expected. Then again, it would have been a 20 minute movie that nobody would watch.

But by the end of the movie, there was a decent resolution. Messiah didn’t go according to human plans, but at the end of the day, life on earth survived. Many died, but humanity was saved. And I like to think they looked at Messiah with new eyes.

If Luke calls us to anything, I believe he calls us to look at Jesus the Messiah with new eyes.

I’ve written about this before but Christianity calls us to dream beyond our expectations. The Catholic liturgist Marty Haugen, in 1986, put the 23rd Psalm to music. We all know the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my Shepherd, there is nothing I shall want.” When Marty put this to music he wrote his first line: “Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.”

Those who grumbled at Jesus, those who wanted to throw him off the cliff, expressed anger that Jesus wasn’t what they wanted. He was a young man of questionable parentage who dared to claim the mantle that was supposed to go to someone else.

Two thousand years later we enjoy the gift of hindsight. This should not make us think ourselves smarter but instead it should make us humble when we recognize that had we been there we likely would have had the same reaction.

I have some sympathy with those who reacted to Jesus with anger. In some ways their image of the Messiah was misdirected, but in some other ways their image was too small.

They imagined the Messiah as a man who would restore King David. We recognize that Jesus didn’t come to us for a military victory, but to save the world. Again and again God’s dreams for us dramatically outdistance our dreams for ourselves. Many Jews at the time of Jesus didn’t recognize that he was the Messiah not only because he was “Joe’s son” but because they fixated on expelling the Romans and missed the point that this Messiah grants us eternal life.

We can ride the roller coaster blindfolded with fear but we can also ride it knowing that, at the end of the ride, we will be OK. We may be exhausted and a little sore and we will almost certainly be in a place different than we expected. But we will be in a place that God dreamed for us, which is bigger than any place we could have dreamed of.