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In the Face of Rejection

Our focal scripture for this week is Luke 4:21-30 where Jesus is run out of his hometown. The context of this passage is important for our understanding, so let me give you the sequence of events in Luke up to this point.

The Gospel of Luke, of course, begins with the conception, birth and circumcision of Jesus. Then we have a brief story of Jesus at age 12 going to Jerusalem with his parents and dallying in “His Abba’s house." John the Baptist appears next on the scene preaching repentance and the coming of someone even greater than him. Then we witness Jesus’ own baptism, where the skies open and the Holy Spirit descends upon him like a dove. A voice from heaven announces, “You are my Own, my Beloved. On you my favor rests.”

At the end of chapter three, Luke inserts the genealogy of Jesus, which begins, “When Jesus began to teach, he was about 30 years old. Then it traces his lineage back through Joseph, eventually all the way back to Adam and Eve,and then God. The message is clear: the Holy Spirit is with Jesus, and he comes right from God.

So, after being "filled with the Holy Spirit" at his baptism, she leads him out into the desert for 40 days where he is tempted by the Devil. Winning that battle of wills, Jesus returns “in the power of the Spirit” to Galilee and preaches and teaches throughout the region. In fact, we hear that he developed quite the reputation, which certainly has preceded him to his home town.

Back in his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath where he is handed the scroll to read (as is part of their weekly worship). He stands and reads: “The Spirit of God is upon me, because God has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captive, recovery of sight to the blind and release to those in prison – to proclaim the year of our God’s favor.” Then he said to them, “Today, in your hearing, this scripture passage is fulfilled.” His hometown folks respond favorably, amazed at his eloquence. Surely this isn’t Mary and Joseph’s son! Who’d have thought!

For a moment, pretend you’re one of his hometown folks. You’ve known Jesus his whole life, you’ve heard his reputation, you know all he has said and done in other towns. You know how much his parents and the rest of the town have struggled under the oppression of Rome, and now he’s declaring that this scripture is fulfilled in their hearing. What are you thinking?

Personally, I'd be feeling like I just won the lottery. Yes! Now we have our own prophet who is going to save our little town! Jesus has known all of us for his entire life, certainly he'll feel loyalty to us and will take even better care of us than the other towns he has been in.

But Jesus is quick to quell this assumption. He basically says, “I know you want me to do here what you’ve heard that I’ve done other places. But I know that prophets are never accepted in their own towns. Besides, if you remember the stories of Elijah and Elisha, you’ll remember that God’s favor rested not exclusively on the Jews, but God’s grace extended to the Gentiles as well. I am being sent to all people, don’t expect me to just hang out here and be your own personal prophet - that was essentially the gist of his little lecture.

After that little speech, the townsfolks weren't quite so enamoured of him anymore. In fact they got angry and turned on him. They grabbed him and took him to the top of a hill, ready to throw him over the edge, but he merely walked away.

So, let’s switch roles now… how do you suppose Jesus feels?  Disappointed.  Let down. Hurt. Rejected.  Betrayed.  Unsure. Does he waffle? I wonder. He was human. Maybe at the beginning he wanted to be liked.

We’ve all experienced rejection from lovers, family members, friends, work, teams, church, etc. Basically it sucks because rejection tends to lead to self-blame and self-hatred. Rejection can make us question our identity as lovable, worthy, capable, talented human beings.

Rejection seems to throw the question in our face: Who do you think you are? Who do you think you are to play with the big kids? Who do you think you are to get the promotion at work? Who do you think you are to have people love you no matter what? Who do you think you are to have people listen to you? Rejection strikes at the very core of our being where we like to hide all of our insecurities and our weaknesses, and makes us question whether all the bad things we sometimes think about ourselves aren't actually true.

In this passage in Luke, the town is saying, “Who the heck do you think you are, Jesus?”  Do you think you’re better than us? Do you think we have to listen to you? If you’re not going to help us, what good are you? You’re just Joseph’s son. We’re going to show you exactly how we feel about all this… take him to the cliff (by the way, research shows that rejection can cause anger and aggression).

But here’s the tension in this passage that we don’t understand unless we put the passage in the context of the whole gospel story. Jesus was just baptized a few months ago and God said, “You are my Own, my Beloved.”  He owns and claims this during his 40 days meditating and fasting, during his encounter with the devil of temptations, and as he begins to preach. Jesus owns his belovedness and it gives him strength and conviction and assurance that he’s on the right track.

Who the heck do you think you are Jesus? I am the Beloved of God.

This is what gets him through this rough patch with his hometown. This is what keeps him calm and has him walking away saying, I just can’t be who you want me to be. God loves all people, and my message is for all people, and unless you can accept that, then you can’t receive what I have to give.

Do you think there is a  baby that is born that is not the beloved of God? No, of course not. At the very core of our beings we are all the beloved. But as Henri Nouwen says, God may whisper to us that we are the beloved, but the world persistently shouts that we’re not good enough, we’re ugly, unworthy…nobody. And we tend to believe the voices of the world. Even if we are able to dismiss the voices for a time, as soon as we’re criticized, or abandoned, or rejected, it feels as if the voices are being affirmed… “I am unlovable and no good.”

Sue Monk Kidd has a book called, “God’s Joyful Surprise.” Do you know what the surprise is? It’s that God loves us… not a simple Sunday school awareness that God loves us, but a mind-blowing, deep down, breathtaking experience of the Divine that transforms our lives because it is so real and so powerful. 

If you haven’t experienced this, somehow you’ll have to trust me that it exists. I wish I could give it to you.  And if you’ve felt it, don’t allow that experience to be doubted or dulled. We are each beloved of God…. our worth, our value is not determined by whether we get picked for the team, or have the most friends on Facebook, or are never betrayed by our friends. Our value and worth just is.  Don’t let anyone ever tell you different.

Love & Light!