Last Sunday, we heard about the incredible mission that Christ invites us to share in as members of His body the Church, His mission to preach the good news to the spiritually poor. Today, in the Gospel, we continue right where we left off. The results of our Lord’s invitation are not quite what we would expect, though.
At first, things seem to be going well. St. Luke tells us that “all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” It does not take long, though, before things start to change course. They realize, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” Now you can imagine being one of those people, the ones who saw Mary and Joseph bringing Him to the synagogue on the Sabbath, whose children played with Him in the streets, and the ones who were His friends at school. And now He has some surprising things to tell them.
Christ knows what is in their hearts, and as they begin to question His authority, He ups the ante. He makes it clear that He will not be performing any spectacular deeds there in His hometown because of their lack of faith. That surely would have upset some folks, but it would not have provoked the intense reaction that we see later. That comes for another reason: Christ slights not only the people of Nazareth, but the Jewish people all together.
Christ compares Himself to the prophet Elijah. In the Jewish scriptures, Elijah is the paradigmatic prophet, who works incredible miracles like even raising someone from the dead. There is one problem with Elijah, though: He is frequently found outside of the Jewish boundaries, coming into contact with people that our Lord’s contemporaries regarded as unclean and unworthy of this kind of attention.
In the Old Testament, it is clear that God is gathering the Jewish people to Himself, but that He also desires to extend the same love that He is showing to them to the rest of the world too. There are countless references to the gentiles coming to know Him. The people of Christ’s day, though, had lost sight of this. They thought of themselves as having an exclusive claim on God. Everyone else was pretty much out of luck.
St. Luke’s Gospel, more so than any of the others, was written for converts to Christianity from the world of the gentiles. He makes it clear at the very outset that Christ’s offer of salvation is universal. This is what fills the people in the synagogue with fury and leads them to attempt to murder the Lord. Having lost sight of God’s universal promise of salvation, the fact that our Lord claims to both be the Messiah and to have come for the gentiles is a contradiction in terms. He must be a blasphemer, an enemy of God, an offence meriting death.
The residents of Nazareth are not willing to accept a Messiah who isn’t just there for them. In doing so, they illustrate the mob mentality that we find so often in our own day, which, so often rushes to judgment without knowing the facts of a case. The point here is not so much the innocence or guilt of any particular person, but the kind of society that trades in righteous indignation. Social media increasingly give people an outlet for their anger at any and all opportunities. Everyone now has the chance to be important and to garner attention. The angrier and obscener the post or comment, the more attention it gathers. It is little wonder that sociologists observe that people in country report feeling angry more often in 2017 than in any other year that they have tracked.
Instead of the angry mob that rushes to judgment because it cannot bear to be challenged, St. Paul proposes something very different today. “When I was a child,” he writes, “I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.” Throwing temper tantrums is childlike, and yet we now live in a society that glorifies that response, that insists that everyone must have a dramatic and public reaction to every supposed slight and injury, that encourages those who traffic in outrage to outdo each other for our attention. The adult response is not righteous indignation, but love.
When St. Paul talks about love, though, he is talking about a challenging form of love. This is a love that “does not rejoice over wrongdoing,” that does not exult when one’s enemies are exposed to boisterous public refutation when they make a misstep. This is a love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” It is a love that earnestly desires the conversion of the enemies of the Gospel, not out of a vengeful sense of vindication, but out of a genuine sadness that anyone would choose to live in the darkness of error. This is a love that is “not pompous, … inflated … rude, [nor] seek[ing] its own interests.”
Yet our society glorifies precisely that: pompous, inflated, and rude commentary that seeks its own interests, that rejoices in the embarrassment of its enemies, and that belittles others. We never tire of calling for resignations, of demanding public submission, and of sharing, reposting, and retweeting when others do the same. Anger and the attention it provokes (with the accompanying sense of both relief and delight in the approval of others) become a deadly cycle. Often we disdain public figures (and even our spiritual shepherds) unless they behave likewise, expecting them publicly to share their fury at one another for our approval. In doing so, we become those people in Nazareth, who refused to be challenged, who refused to listen, who made themselves the measure of truth rather than being willing to listen to Christ.
What can we do, then, to make ourselves less angry and more loving? Maybe you have heard the phrase, “garbage in, garbage out.” When we are consuming the anger that our society has turned into a highly sellable commodity, we will find that anger coming right back out of us. In order not to be overcome with this anger, you need to limit the amount of time you spend consuming traditional or social media, both of which regularly traffic in precisely this sort of provocation. Anger causes a vicious cycle. We feel a temporary release from expressing what is welling up inside of us, but one display of righteous indignation is never enough, and before long it will take even greater displays of outrage to draw our attention.
Yes, there are absolutely things in this world with which ought to express our disagreement, evils to which we must stand up. But our Lord calls us to us to a respectful and charitable engagement with others that shows true love in the pursuit of truth. Rather than the indignation and outrage promoted by news programs and many social media feeds, we should, out of true love for others, seek to convince them of the truth through respectful and dispassionate engagement. Otherwise, we become like those people in the synagogue at Nazareth, who cannot stand even the slightest suggestion that they might not have everything figured out.
Anger is a powerful tool for good. It is the correct response to an evil that we do not have the power to fix. However, it is misused by the mob mentality from every side of the political and moral spectrum in which people set themselves up as the judges of their brothers and become consumers and producers of rage and indignation. Rather than giving into this cycle of anger, the Christian response to evil in the world is a thoughtful, careful, and respectful engagement with others that is not pompous, inflated, and rude but rather shows true charity towards the other.
True charity and respect have the power to win hearts for the Gospel. We must be confident that the Truth will ultimately prevail, because the One who died and rose for our sins is Truth Himself, and He has indeed won the contest over the prince of this world. God does not need your righteous indignation – He desires your love.