Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing…They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
Last week we heard Jesus’ first sermon. This week’s lectionary text keeps us in the same passage, but it focuses on the end of the sermon when things turn ugly.
In the first half of the sermon Jesus lifts up the expansive nature of God’s grace, which is why “all spoke well of him and were amazed at his gracious words” (v. 22). In the second half of
the sermon Jesus lifts up two outsiders – the widow and the leper. The congregation becomes so enraged at Jesus’ application of grace that they drive him out of the synagogue and attempt to throw him off a cliff.
I’ve given plenty of sermons – many of them very bad, but none of them have ended with the congregation driving me out of the church to the edge of a cliff.
At Street Psalms, we train urban leaders to see and celebrate good news in hard places. It’s tricky business because it’s easy for leaders to become puppets of the crowds we serve, or be filled with resentment and become bullies. Jesus is neither a puppet nor a bully. He speaks from a different place altogether. It is the place of the Incarnation – mystery of the Word made flesh.
Here are three beautiful mysteries of the Incarnation surfaced in this week’s text.
“…Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21). Notice the first word of Jesus’ first sermon, “Today.” Yes, today is the day of our Lord. The Gospel always comes to us in the present moment. That’s the promise of the Incarnation. The present is pregnant with God, waiting and wanting to be born. Because of this, we are midwives to the holy in all things. Today, this moment, now, is the fulfillment of Word made flesh!
Grace and Truth
Grace is truth, and truth is grace. They are one, not two, but if we must have an order, grace precedes truth. Grace (when we relax into it) takes away fear of judgment and opens us up to truth. Without grace, our truth becomes very small and even dangerous. Jesus’ sermon demonstrates this order, and he maintains the Gospel order to the end when he declares on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” It is only forgiven people who can see the truth of things. If we see at all, we see by the light of forgiveness. That is why forgiveness precedes repentance. The Apostle John named the mystery of the Incarnation beautifully, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). It’s the Gospel order of things.
Unfortunately,instead of relaxing into grace, the congregation is scandalized by it. They want to kill Jesus, but he does not return violence for violence. Instead, “He passed through the midst of them and went on his way” (v.30). Only God can pass through the flames of violence without being consumed by it. This too is the mystery of the Incarnation; it does not return violence for violence. It forsakes the myth of redemptive violence and shows us how to pass through the violence that consumes us. The Incarnation makes another “way” possible – the way of peace.