the cliff

One minute he was on the stage, the next minute he was being shoved to the edge of a cliff. They didn’t like what he said and they weren’t willing to listen.

What if they would have listened? What if they would have waited to hear just one more sentence? To them he was just some local kid – nobody of importance. To us, he was Jesus and we would never think of cutting his sermon short no matter where we had lunch reservations.

Most of us may find it hard to relate to an angry mob ready to commit murder. But, even though we may consider ourselves more civilized, we still display a propensity for throwing others off cliffs to never be heard from again. What would we do if someone stood on our stage and said something that offended our heritage and our theology? We know what we would do.

Some of us can’t even read a book that doesn’t sing the song we have been humming1.

“But, we have the Bible. We have whole truth and can know it. On this side of Jesus there isn’t anything left to figure out.” They had the Bible too. Jesus just read from Isaiah moments before this and the Old Testament doesn’t get anymore New Testament than it does in Isaiah. As for the truth? Well, let’s just say it was right in front of their face. Yet, they were wrong. They were wrong about God, wrong about the scripture and wrong about themselves. It’s easy to look into history and respond with laughter and mortification at the things people used to do. It’s hard to accept that in a few decades or so, we will be them. So, while we could never imagine throwing Jesus off a cliff, we’ve silenced plenty of other people by pushing them over. Let’s just hope we are better at recognizing Jesus then they were.

This isn’t anti-conviction. Conviction is necessary and good. Conviction can provide stability and direction. But, while we hold our convictions in one hand, we must hold humility in the other.

Without humility, the stability of conviction gives way to the quick sand of arrogance.

Living in this tension between conviction and admitting our own human limitations is something we need to be comfortable with, but it’s messy. Unfortunately, so many of us are OCD and we can’t tolerate the clutter of questions lying around. We want to pick up all of our theology and put it neatly in its place. We never invite anyone over who isn’t OCD too because we are afraid they will leave their shoes on and track in something that will make a mess.

One of my favorite parts of this story in Luke 4 is what happens when they get to the cliff. He walks through the crowd and goes on his way. I’m not sure how this happened. I like to imagine him with an unimpressed facial expression as he let’s them push him along. Then, when they get to the edge, I see him pulling his arms aggressively away from their clutches and they suddenly feel his force causing them to stop where they are. With a stern look on his face, he calmly walks right through the mob looking them each in the face as he leaves them silenced.

No matter how it went down, one thing is true: because of their attempt to silence him, the Truth literally escaped them.

1 paraphrase from NT Wright’s The Challenge of Jesus

Murderous threats…

It wasn’t just a change of mind or even just a change of heart. It was a drastic and very public change of identity. This was a family splitting, friendship-ending shift from one extreme to the opposite end. It happened privately among a small group of people at first, but then it became public.

Change, even when it is a private, internal, baby-step type of change, isn’t easy. Public, lightening speed, monumental change usually leaves you humbled and everyone else doubting your sincerity. Change over time can be seen as an accomplishment. “That’s what I thought or did years ago. I’m different now.” Quick change involves admitting you are wrong right now leaving you easier to be kicked since your nose is currently in the dirt.

Imagine that days after an athlete physically assaults his wife, he stars in a public service announcement against domestic violence. It would be received as an unbelievable joke. People can’t authentically change that fast. He’s only sorry because he got caught.

Just several days, 20 verses, after being described as “breathing out murderous threats” against the followers of the “The Way”, Paul began “preaching in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.” (Acts 9:20) He still had blood on his hands from his role in the stoning of Stephen! The letters giving him permission to imprison men and women for their newly found faith were still in his back pocket.

How deep is your grace? Is it deep enough for Paul? Or, would you want him to pay first? Too often our “justice” is about punishment – someone getting what they deserve. Let’s bring “those wretches to a wretched end.”(Mat 21:41) I’m not even talking about “major crimes.” It happens to someone that posts an ignorant tweet that brings him to the national stage and sends his future tumbling to the ground. He needs to pay.

When we watch the news, read their picket signs or witness their failure, our emotions cry out for our form of justice and suddenly, we are the ones breathing “murderous threats.”

Maybe justice is more about restoration. While there are consequences to pay for our actions, justice is much greater and more beautiful than consequences. It isn’t just about the thief being sentenced; it is about the family having what was stolen restored. It is about setting things right again.

It is about making things as they should be.

But, our vitriol-laden speech does just the opposite. It impedes justice. Gossip isn’t wrong because it spreads lies. Gossip may indeed be full of truth. Gossip is wrong because it impedes justice. Your talk turns people against others. It tints the lens others now see that person through. How can restoration happen if you are always talking about what they did? How can restoration take place when your speech creates dissension?

Could the restoration of Paul have begun so quickly with you around? Is our grace deep enough for his actions to sink to the bottom like rocks completely out of sight, or would they always be at the surface within our reach quickly accessible to stone him with?

Losing sight…

Wake-up call. Moment of clarity. Snapping out of it. Refocus. It is when you are reminded of what you have known all along. Why do we so often need to re-orient?

When Jesus was twelve, he got lost. He knew where he was, but his parents didn’t and they didn’t find him for three days. We are all so curious of what Jesus was like when he was young or what it was like to be his parent. Would you lecture Jesus sternly or more so make a suggestion? “Hey Jesus, maybe give us a heads up next time if that is ok with you?” Would you worry about Jesus or just think he’ll probably be ok because he has some backup?

Perhaps an equally curious thing about this story (Luke 2:41) is that after Jesus explains to his parents what he was doing – he was in the temple (his Father’s house) listening and questioning – Mary and Joseph did not understand what he was saying to them. How could they not understand what he was saying to them?

The identity of this boy that Mary gave birth to and that they were now raising was made pretty clear right? Is there any way they could forget who he is? So when he they find him in the temple and he explains himself, I would think that instead of not understanding, their “silly us”reaction would be “Of course that’s where you were.”

Maybe they didn’t forget who he was as much as they simply lost sight of who he was.

Maybe somewhere along the way between all of the dirty diapers and late nights that eventually turned into dirty fingernails and little boy bed head, the deity got buried beneath his clumsy humanity. Maybe how fragile he felt to Joseph as he gripped the boy with his strong hands in a moment of playful shoving caused Joseph to forget his God-ness and only see his smallness. Maybe the growing of Jesus in wisdom and stature snuck up on them as fast as it does us with our children. Suddenly, he was twelve, filling out and becoming independent, but they still saw him as a boy.

What is obvious to us on this side of the cross perplexed them in the middle of his childhood. They lost sight of who he really was and that day was a wake up call – a moment of clarity. The message of the angel almost thirteen years prior came rushing back into their memory.

So it is with us. The things that should be so clear to us often get buried beneath everything else. It is the old toy at the bottom of the toy box that reemerges with a flood of memories and a big smile. Where we started often gets obscured by where we have been.

Maybe you have lost sight of who your spouse really is. Maybe they are buried beneath the quirks, arguments and pet peeves. You haven’t forgotten who they are, but you have lost sight of it. Or, maybe it is you. Somewhere under the layers of guilt, lack of hope or behind a shield that you built out of the arrows others shot your direction, you are still there. Or maybe it is the world around you. The humanness of others has gotten lost in the seething rhetoric of the news, leaving our neighbors buried beneath political arguments and our emotional reactions.

After Mary and Joseph found Jesus, he obeyed them and returned to Nazareth and it is said “his mother treasured all of these things in her heart.” I bet this was a great story from his childhood. One that resurfaced in the form of a smile years after he was gone.

Do you need a moment of clarity? A wakeup call?

Today, let the good rise to the top leaving in its’ wake the residue of the years.