Whatever has brought you to this wilderness, whatever brokenness and anger and guilt and shame and messiness have traced your steps here, “do not” “consider the things of old.” God is not about rubbing our noses in our mistakes or berating us over our foolishness. Whenever you realize and recognize that you are in the wilderness, surely that is enough suffering -- to know that you are parched, to feel, finally, that you are clumsy and tired, without strength and without a way out for yourself. And into that realization, into that opening of the eyes of your heart, God comes.
The apostle Paul is trying to tell us something, show us something, that by definition is impossible for us to see with our own eyes. He’s not just telling us to see something in a different light; from a different point of view; to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. That’s hard enough but with effort it can be done. No: Paul is telling us that we are to regard “no one from a human point of view.” Let alone trying to see things from the perspective of another person—he’s saying, the problem is the human point of view! The perspective of human beings living in the world—that’s what’s all wrong, he says. You see, there is now a new creation—everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!
What would happen if there was someone who knew and understood me so well that nothing he said about me was unfair or untrue? What if there was someone who understood me better than I understand myself?
What if there was someone who confronted me in my sin not to tear me down, but to show me that what I’m doing will wind up destroying everything that really matters in my life?
Jesus’ message is for everyone -- not just the prostitutes or the notorious sinners, but also, as Scripture describes Joseph of Arimathea, those who are “seeking the kingdom of God.” Jesus doesn’t only spend his time in drug dens or brothels, but also with the lady in the nursing home whose Bible’s pages are wearing away at the corners from use. Jesus doesn’t only spend his time on street corners or with the lepers, but also around family dinner tables and snuggling with kids on his lap.
But even more messy, we’re not called to just relinquish, or abandon those things on the altar, not just throw them at the feet of God and walk away. Because what do we do every time we gather together? We bring up our offerings -- not just the offering plates, but the very bread and wine that becomes Christ’s body and blood -- those offerings are blessed by God through the hands of the priest on God’s own altar, and then what happens to them? What happens to that bread and wine, and what happens to the money in the alms basins?
We can call this glory because God in Christ walked the way of the cross and found in it not an end, not defeat, but instead walked through it to the joy of Easter morning. If there were no Easter morning victory then again: Peter would be right. It would be better to avoid the pain and the suffering that comes along with loving our enemies, and seeking reconciliation with people who have done us wrong and frankly don’t deserve it. Isn’t that what Peter said? “Forget them! They don’t care about you; they want to kill you! Tell them off and leave them alone. If you try to love them you’ll just wind up getting hurt.”
If Jesus were not raised from the dead, that would make a whole lot of sense. It’s easier all things considered to just give up on people…
But that’s not what Jesus did to us. He could have stayed up on that mountain. He didn’t have to go to Jerusalem and suffer and die at our hands. He could have stayed up there and waited for us to come to him, and to hell with everyone else. But that’s not what he did. He went down from the mountain. He went to the cross. He came to us. And that’s where he revealed his glory.
How easily we forget the real discomfort we invite into our lives when we take just one step forward. It’s one thing to read “from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt,” and to organize a clothing drive. It’s quite another, when someone new comes into your life, and you graciously offer them a welcome-to-the-neighborhood casserole, and after they accept it, they ask if you’d watch their dog next week while they’re out of town, and gather their mail and water their plants, too.
Until the gift we offer starts to hurt us, it isn’t anything to do with the Gospel. We might give away our coat out of the goodness of our own heart, but shedding our shirt can only come by the grace and strength of God. We might invite a new couple over for dinner, but showing up to babysit their kids each month so they can take a date without paying an arm and a leg, that commitment comes by the grace and strength of God.
Why in this passage do the people of Nazareth become so angry at Jesus? And what does it tell us about the real Jesus? I think we can sum it up with two words. The real Jesus in this story is both too exclusive and too inclusive for the people to take. Both sides of it tick them off and if we’re honest, they may very well tick us off too.