Over at Target, there is this woman who works with Denise and whenever I take Eliza to go shopping with me, this woman says the same thing when she sees Eliza. She takes in a surprising breath and says, “Look how tall she has gotten.” Then she says to Eliza, “I remember when you were just this tall.” The funny thing is that we can go back to Target just a couple of weeks later and this woman will say the same thing, “Look how tall she has gotten. I remember when you were just this tall.” Sometimes it is hard to grow up in the eyes of people who can remember when we were just this tall.
Jesus encountered this same problem when he returned to his home town. At this point in the story, we don’t know how long it has been since Jesus left Nazareth, but, it was long enough that the people were surprised to see him. The last time they saw Jesus was the day he took a walk down to the River Jordan and was baptized by John. Then Jesus went off into the desert and the people hadn’t seen him since, but they had heard about Jesus.
As I said last week, Jesus was gaining quite a reputation as he went around proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was at hand. Jesus was healing people, raising the dead, and performing all sorts of fantastic miracles. Jesus was even forgiving people, something that only God could do. On top of that, Jesus was causing trouble in the synagogues, healing on the Sabbath, interpreting the Scriptures in a different way, often times applying the Scriptures to himself. These were the stories that the people of Nazareth were hearing about, but they didn’t quite know what to make of all these stories about Jesus. Sometimes it is hard to grow up in the eyes of people who can remember when you were just this tall.
While Jesus was home, the Sabbath came around and Jesus went to the synagogue and was given the honor of reading and interpreting the Scriptures, and the people were amazed. They just couldn’t believe what they were seeing and hearing. This was little Jesus, Mary and Joseph’s little boy. They remember when he was this tall, when he used to run around and play with his brothers and sisters. Now, Jesus was all grown up and proclaiming the Kingdom of God. Jesus even has the audacity to say that the Kingdom of God is at hand because of Jesus’ ministry, that he’s the reason the Kingdom of God is being fulfilled in their midst. The people just couldn’t handle it. It was too much for them. They just couldn’t see past the little boy that they once knew. The result was that there was very little that Jesus could do, ministry wise, among the people of his hometown.
This story challenges us to think about how we see Jesus. We don’t see Jesus as Mary and Joseph’s little boy as the people did in Nazareth, but I am guessing that we all have a lens through which we view Jesus, and we have a hard time seeing Jesus any other way. The question is, does how we view Jesus help or hinder the ministry that Jesus can do in and through our lives?
Those of us who grew up in the church can probably remember the Sunday School stories about Jesus and the little children. The mean ole’ disciples wanted to shoo away the little children, but Jesus, even gentle and mild, welcomed the little children, laughing and playing with them. Then, of course, there were the stories of Jesus as the good shepherd, who, lovingly and tenderly held the little lambs in his arms, just like the picture that was hung up on the wall over the crib in the nursery. This view of Jesus is wonderful and kind, not too demanding, which we like. Then the mean ole’ preacher comes along and starts talking about taking up our crosses and denying ourselves and losing our lives for the sake of Jesus and that becomes a bit too much for us. That doesn’t sound like the Jesus that holds little lambs in his arms.
Others of us might have grown up in the church where the stories of Jesus had a bit of a harder edge to them. These were the stories where Jesus went into the temple and completely ransacked the place, turning over the money tables, letting all the sacrificial animals go free, and with a whip, driving the people out. Then of course, there are the stories of Jesus coming back, like a thief in the night, mounted on a white horse with sword in hand to slay all the evil doers and to cast the sinners into the pit of fire. These were the days of hellfire and brimstone. This view of Jesus was demanding, nothing cute and cuddly about this Jesus. This was the Jesus to be feared who saw your every action and was aware of your every thought. Then the kindly ole’ preacher comes along and starts preaching about grace and forgiveness, about love and turning the other cheek and that becomes a bit too much for us. That doesn’t sound like the Jesus who holds a sword in one hand, and the keys to death and hades in the other.
We can go on and on with different ways of seeing Jesus and people have done that quite a bit. I am amazed at how quick people are to recruit Jesus to their cause. I’ve heard Jesus referred to as a liberal, a conservative, an evangelical, and a socialist. Jesus is the friend of the poor, and the giver of wealth. Jesus supports the 2nd amendment and is the original pacifist. Jesus is a vegan who likes himself a good steak from time to time. Find a cause and you will find people who views Jesus through the lens of their cause. Of course, this brings us back to our question, “Does how we view Jesus help or hinder the ministry that Jesus can do in and through our lives?”
If there is one thing that we learn from the gospel stories of Jesus it is that Jesus came to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to live out the Kingdom of God. He didn’t come to live up to anyone else’s expectations or to live his life through other people’s lenses. Jesus constantly defied the pre-conceived notions that people had about who he should be and what he should be doing. He taught in parables that were crystal clear to some and left others completely baffled. Then Jesus said, “If you have ears to hear, then hear. If you have eyes to see, then see.” Even his poor disciples couldn’t figure Jesus out until after the resurrection. It was as if Jesus was saying, the only way you are truly going to know me is if you let me show you who I am, let me give you the lenses through which to see me.
This past weekend, I saw a movie called Silence. It was directed by Martin Scorsese and the movie was about the real life persecution of Christians in 17th century Japan. The main character was a Jesuit priest by the name of Rodrigo. Rodrigo was nicknamed, the last priest of Japan, and was made to watch other Christians being persecuted in the most unspeakable ways in order to force him to renounce his faith and bring an end to all missionary efforts in Japan. All Rodrigo needed to do was recant and the persecutions would stop. The whole time this is happening, Rodrigo is crying out to Jesus, wanting to know why Jesus is letting this happen, why Jesus is being silent while these Christians are being persecuted. The Jesus he sees through his lens isn’t the Jesus who would remain distant and allow this kind of suffering to continue. Finally, in an effort to save the lives of many, Rodrigo recanted his faith. The people were spared and his ministry was over. Rodrigo was given a new life, a Japanese life.
Many years later, though dressed in the garb of a Japanese man, Rodrigo is approach by a “secret” Christian, who still sees the real Rodrigo buried within. This man goes up to Rodrigo and says, “Padre, please hear my confession.” At first Rodrigo rejects the man, but the man persists and with hands clasped together bows to the ground in front of Rodrigo. In that moment, the lenses fall from Rodrigo’s eyes and he is able to see in a way that he had never seen before. In prayer, Rodrigo says to Jesus, “All this time I have fought against your silence.” In his spirit, Rodrigo hears Jesus say, “I was suffering with you. I was never silent.” Rodrigo finally saw that Jesus wasn’t distant and removed from the suffering of his people, Jesus was there, suffering with his people. In the end, Rodrigo confesses, “In the silence, I have heard your voice.”
So, how do we see Jesus? What are the lenses through which we view his life? Does how we view Jesus help or hinder the ministry that Jesus can do in and through our lives? It is a worthwhile question to ponder. It is also worthwhile to pray to Jesus, “Lord, I pray for the grace to see you as you want me to see you."