Not Safe, But Good

It’s Sabbath and it’s time for the hometown boy to bring the morning message. His family and childhood friends are there, and they keep looking toward the back of the synagogue, waiting for Jesus to arrive. No doubt he’ll bring his posse with him again today, since they’re more and more inseparable.  And they’re probably ready to cut Jesus some slack, saying to themselves, “Well, even if today’s message sucks big time, we just need to be encouraging, after all, he’s just getting started.” Of course, the people who think they know him don’t really know how he’s evolved as a man.  They think they’re waiting for a young man who works with wood, the brother of James, the mild- mannered son of Mary and Joseph. They’re prepared to excuse the shortcomings of this young man who is someone safe and familiar. After all, they know the family and they know who he is…at least who he used to be.

In one of my favorite childhood books, C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan, the Lion King of Narnia, is supposed to represent Christ. One of the kids is curious about Aslan.  She hasn’t ever seen him but she’s heard he is always on the move.  She asks Mr. Beaver, “Is he safe?” “Who said anything about being safe?” says Mr. Beaver. “Course he’s not safe, but he’s good.”

Like Aslan, Jesus is “on the move.” Everybody is excited to see him because it will put Nazareth on the map. People are already talking about this Jesus and he’s gotten a solid reputation.  Surely his return home is going to mean that Nazareth will become a tourist town soon enough. That will mean a better economy for the town and many people will probably find ways to make a little money on the hometown boy’s popularity. They could even give tours, for a small charge of course, and they could show people where he was raised and maybe even manage to get them a little visit with his mother.  “Welcome to Nazareth, home of Jesus.”   This is the sign that the town fathers are ready to make, welcoming people from far and wide.

And then Jesus arrives and Mark tells us simply that “he began to teach.” Luke 4:16-30 gives us a much fuller account of what he said, why they responded as they did, and what they then tried to do. Luke has him reading from Isaiah 61, basically announcing the coming of Messiah, and then giving a longlist of non-Jewish people who had a heck of a lot more faith than the people in attendance. It’s no surprise then that the homecoming in Luke’s telling ends badly: the good people of Nazareth want to throw the hometown boy off a cliff, they’re so angry at what he’s said in public.

Mark’s account is more subtle and for me personally, someone who likes to observe people’s behavior and actions, it’s intriguing. Everyone in synagogue that day is willing to cut Jesus some slack, PROVIDED he plays the role they want him to. As long as he stays safe and doesn’t wander off into anything that will make them think or challenge their thinking. They are already okay with the idea that God has called him to a special mission, and they might’ve become avid fans if he hadn’t made them squirm.  Their response to whatever it was he says is a combination of faith and non-faith. The bottom line is that they can’t wrap their heads around the idea that such a great gift would be given to someone they know and whose family they know.

Here are the kinds of thoughts that were going through their minds:

  • How dare he have something we don’t?
  • How could something this powerful have grown up in our midst and we not know about it?
  • How dare God send such astounding teachings and do such deeds of power this close to home through someone we know?

All of these questions have a common theme: they all focus exclusively on themselves. When I realized this is what was going on, I had a moment of painful humility because whenever I focus on  myself, on maintain my perceptions and control over my surroundings and other people, I am never open to the truth that God is trying to show me. In other words, I’m perfectly fine with gaining wisdom and grace in ways I expect it, but I’m oblivious to wisdom and grace coming at me through people and places I think I know like the back of my hand.

As a parent of adult sons, I accept that they’re no longer children, but sometimes I’ve still felt free to give them unsolicited advice and my opinions. That’s because I’m the dad, dammit, and that’s how it’s supposed to be.  But, when I pause for a minute and think about it, it’s not just about them learning from me: I have things to learn from them as well.

As a teacher, I still keep in touch with former students and I find I don’t have an issue meeting them as adults and equals, even though they won’t ever be able to call me anything but “Mr. Holland”.  I’ve always said I learn from my students as much as they learn from me, and it’s true.  So, why do I struggle to learn from my own sons?? It’s because I’ve already created the parameters of grace and wisdom around those relationships and I miss lesson after lesson after lesson.

I like to pretend that had I been one of those hometown people sitting in synagogue that day I would have heard the message of Jesus and I would’ve changed whatever he had told me to change. I’ll never know what I really would have done back then, but that really doesn’t matter.  What matters is, what am I going to do now???

A young American got a job as a tour guide in the Holy Land. He would stand at the front of the bus with his microphone and point out the sights to the English-speaking tourists.  He studied hard to learn every place name, every historical and geographical detail, and every geographical factoid. He wanted to be prepared for any and every question. He lived in fear of the question to which he would have no answer. One time, as the tour bus was going by Nazareth, he pointed out the window and said, “This may well be the hill from which the people of Nazareth in Luke chapter 4 tried to cast Jesus off.” At this an old Catholic priest who had seemed to be sleeping at the back of the bus, raised his head and asked, “What is it called?” The young man searched his memory wildly for a moment and then blurted out “It’s called the ‘Mount of Jumpification.”

Jesus is good, but not safe. Not everyone wants to take the leap of faith to believe he is the Son of God and then to follow him along the hard and narrow path of discipleship depicted by Mark. Not everyone is willing to allow Jesus to work deeds of power through them (6:5). Many refuse to welcome and hear him (6:11).

We all have our own internal “Mount of Jumpification.” Either we’re going to throw Jesus off the cliff,  or we jump in after him with a leap of faith.

Our hometown boy is on the move. He is good, but not safe. And he’s coming to bring us the message. The question is, are we ready to hear it and then do something with it??



About frmichelrcc

I have a degree in religious studies from the University of Wisconsin, did graduate work in theology at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and also at St. Paul's University in Ottawa. I have been a Benedictine since I first professed as an oblate in 1982, making final profession in 2009. I have worked as vocations director in a large diocese in the mid-west and am a spiritual director in the Benedictine tradition. I have 3 sons, one of whom is now in God's loving embrace in eternity, and 2 grandsons, Bradley and Jacob.
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