Hurling Jesus Down Headlong: A Homily for January 20, 2022

It started off well enough… they were amazed by him and spoke highly of him. But it ended so badly… with them wanting to take him to the edge of town and “hurl him down headlong.” The question is: why this radical turnabout? This extreme change in fortune? Scholars have debated this for centuries. I have pondered this for the past week.

You could say they were annoyed because this was only the local kid, the carpenter’s boy. Surely, he couldn’t possess this much wisdom? And what did he mean by saying that the scripture passage was fulfilled in their hearing? Who exactly was the carpenter’s boy claiming to be? I don’t think this was the problem because I’m sure they knew who he was all along and so I don’t suspect this would have caused such a precipitous fall from grace.

Was it because Jesus was preaching a message of salvation for the oppressed? I can’t see this being the reason as many in Nazareth must have felt oppressed. Wouldn’t they more likely feel that he was offering a message of hope to them?

No, I believe the cause of all the angst was that he claimed that the promised land would not just be for the chosen people, the Jews, but for Gentiles as well. Hearing this must have been shocking, blasphemous, heretical, and seemed downright unfair.

As to what their intent was, it appears that they were escorting him to the edge of town. Perhaps they were merely rejecting him and wishing him on his way, but the killing of someone in Nazareth at that time was not allowed, so in all likelihood, they were bringing him to the edge of town so that they could finish him off. Be done with him. Their anger must have been that intense.

It’s worth pointing out that this rejection would not be his last. Eventually, and ultimately, the sentiment to hurl Jesus down headlong came in the form of a crucifix. The Nazareth story is really just a precursor of what would eventually come.

There are so many issues here, so many angles to this Gospel story. But over the past week, the one that stuck with me most of all was the notion that each of us is our own Nazareth. And each of us has an important choice. Do we embrace Jesus when he comes? Or do we escort him out of town? Or… in reality… do we actually want to finish him off?

I remember when I was doing a hospital chaplaincy internship many years ago, talking to a man who was in his final days. He told me, with a great deal of sadness and regret, that all during his life, he always claimed that there is no God, that Jesus is a myth and that the Church and organized religion are all just a gigantic waste of time. But then he said to me, and I have never forgotten it, the following: “I think I knew all along that there is a God and that he has been calling out to me. But, I had to reject him and his Church because I didn’t want what they demanded of me. I couldn’t let go of the things in my life that I knew God wanted me to. So, it was just easier for me to believe that there is no God.”

In our world, there are many examples of the rejection of faith. The rejection of Church. The rejection of God. And we witness attempts to essentially hurl Jesus down headlong, right off a cliff, all the time. Some would just assume finish him off.

This happens all around us.

But, it can happen within us as well.

It’s one thing to welcome Jesus into our town. It’s another thing altogether to invite him to remain…

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