In the middle of a not very great situation, a friend – no scratch that, he’s more than a friend … more like part of the family, someone my boys think of as “Our (name withheld to protect the (not so) innocent!)” – mentioned/lamented that he had often wondered why someone had once given Luke 4:24 to him as ‘a word.’
Luke 4:24 tells us that Jesus is a rather provocative fellow; He’s speaking in his local hometown synagogue – in the midst of the people who grew up with Him – and He tells them that He’s come to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah 61, to be the one who will “preach good news to the poor” and “proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
Initially the locals are impressed, they like what they hear – a bit of the ‘old time religion’ being preached will always impress and comfort the crowds. Jesus, though, doesn’t play to the gallery; He spices things up by stating:
“I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his home town.”
Just at the moment when people seem to be on board with Jesus’ ministry – the miracles of Capernaum and the amazing authority and “gracious words” of his teaching – He confounds them by throwing a spanner in to the works. Jesus basically tells the gathered synagogue that it could be that they’re on the wrong side of the equation, relying on their history, religion and culture for their collective security and identity. He tells them that God is more interested in the foreigner and the outcast than in the smugly secure and satisfied. He bugs them so much they try to throw him of a cliff!
In many ways there shouldn’t be any real surprise to this situation – people are people regardless of the situation, and it must have been hard to really hear what Jesus was saying, and to really see who Jesus was when you had all those preconceived ideas and memories of who this guy was before he got ‘dat ol’ time religion!’ People just aren’t predisposed towards seeing something new in someone familiar.
I know that on a couple of occasions when I’ve spoken in churches where I’ve been well-known and I’ve had people come up to me at the end and more or less tell me that they just don’t agree with me, because it was me saying it and I was too flippant/irreverent/disrespectful/(delete as appropriate). Basically, they’d seen me stand up there with my big mouth and somewhat dubious sense of humour and they thought, “I’m not having that. I know him, and I’m sure I’m not going to listen to him prattling on as though he’s something special!”
Equally, I’ve said very similar things in churches where I wasn’t well known at all and been told I was the best thing since sliced bread!
The saying goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt” and it feels that way sometimes.
The thing is I’m just the same.
Familiarity doesn’t so much breed contempt with me, more like indifference or perhaps ignorance. I frequently discount things that are said to me if I think the person saying them to me is – to be blunt about it – a flake! (To be fair, I’m hopeful that people who genuinely know me, would take what I say with at least a measure of discernment commensurate with my own flakiness!!!)
There’s that tendency to judge again, to think we know who God would speak through, to think that God wouldn’t use that jumped up, too big for their boots, know-it-all, or that type of flaky, inconsistent, sin-ridden, ‘what do you mean they call themselves a Christian’, type of person. I think that, tragically, it’s a common response – we tend to react to such people with rejection and a refusal to listen. It’s like we can’t be doing with people getting ’airs and graces’ or ‘ideas above their station,’ and we feel threatened or exasperated or irked or annoyed by people who lack the requisite meek and modest manner.
It reminds of the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry – the crowds are following John the Baptist; he’s the very archetype of a fire-and-brimstone preaching, hairy-chested, locust-crunching, Old Testament prophet. The people recognise it and are willing to follow along … they put so much store in the established look of things that they actually miss the real, genuine, unparalleled and unprecedented Messiah in their midst.
Maybe because my friend doesn’t look like the alleged archetypal Christian guy (don’t get me started on that one – that’s like ten blogs worth of vitriol waiting to explode!), people don’t recognise his gifts – and that’s why Luke 4:24 was given as a sort of encouragement … like “Hey, they didn’t get Jesus, so don’t put too much store in them getting you…” I don’t know. I do know that my friend has gifts that are recognised within the church we’re at – at last – and I also know that there’s a whole range of gifts that are sort of waiting for him to fully recognise them in himself!
You see, for my friend, for all of us in fact, I think this “prophet without honour” situation has another – altogether more insidious – aspect; not necessarily one Jesus was pointing out in the story from Luke, but I think it’s there nevertheless
I think that we treat ourselves as prophets without honour in our own lives. What I mean is that we dismiss, distrust, demean, discount and therefore dishonour ourselves when it comes to our own interactions with others, or our ‘ministries’ (whatever that might mean to you), or our own personal stumbling through life and faith. I think that the Christian culture has a dreadful self-emasculating tendency to regard ourselves as less than we are – to disqualify ourselves from bringing life, hope, love, support, joy, and comfort to those who might need it – because we don’t feel as though we’re the right ones to do it … as though there’s some elite special forces of Christianity only open to televangelists and mega-church pastors, that we’ll never get to join.
I see it countless times, people who have genuine insight, genuine humility, genuine gifts, genuine impact, discount themselves as people can can/do/should make a difference for themselves and others. It seems like we’re conditioned (by culture, by our understanding, by church) to automatically think less of ourselves and to avoid putting ourselves in the limelight.
Just for a change, let’s imagine that we’re not worthless wretches who are nothing but a disappointment to others and even to God. Instead, let’s imagine, together, that we are people “chosen for the high calling … to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you – from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.” (1 Peter 2:9-10, MSG) – For a change let’s imagine – and then let’s behave like – we’re not prophets without honour.
Let’s see the difference that makes.