Thursday, March 9, 2023


The whole audience in the synagogue was filled with

indignation. They rose up and expelled Jesus from the

town, leading him to the brow of the hill, intending

to hurl him over the edge.

Luke 4:24-30


Talking about a homily gone bad! As a preacher, this story puts the fear of God into me every time I read it. The moral of this story might be: preaching can be hazardous to your health!   


What we have here is the last half of a longer story. To get the full impact you need to know what goes before.  Jesus is home in the Nazareth synagogue. It is the Sabbath. He is asked to read a passage from Isaiah and give the homily.   


Things go well at first. He had their undivided attention. They seem to be expecting something out of the ordinary. It says “their eyes were fixed on him.”  Things were going very well - at least as long as he said things they wanted to hear, at least as long as he said things they agreed with. “All present” it says, “spoke favorably of him; they marveled at the discourse which came from his lips.”  


Here is where it starts turning ugly. Jesus starts saying things they didn’t want to hear, things they didn’t agree with. He begins to challenge their religious boundaries by giving two examples of God’s generous love for Gentiles. For his audience, this was heresy, pure and simple. “What do you mean by saying God loves Gentile scum? We are God’s chosen people and we have been taught all our lives that his love is restricted to us! Gentiles are destined for the fires of hell! We all know that and so should you!” 


At this point in Jesus’ homily, the whole audience, were are told, was filled with indignation. His own home town synagogue rose up, dragged him out of the pulpit, ran him out of town and even tried to throw him over a cliff. Now, that is a homilist worst nightmare!   


This message and this indignation would be repeated throughout Jesus’ ministry. The people of Nazareth, and the people who thought like them, were the all-day vineyard workers who resented the full day’s pay that the vineyard owner gave to those who arrived right before quitting time. They were the older son, who resented the fathers fawning over his prodigal brother. They were the self-righteous who condemned Jesus to death for being so generous with God’s love. “This man welcomes sinners and even eats with them.” This last crowd didn’t just drag him out of a pulpit and try to throw him over a cliff, they flogged and crucified him for his “outrageous liberal theology.”  


This text is very personal to me.  As pastor of our cathedral, I specialized in reaching out to marginalized and disaffected Catholics. Like Jesus, I had the honor of being accused of “welcoming sinners and eating with them.” Because of that, I was often the target of a small group of right-wing Catholics. I had a knife pulled on me over a homily that welcomed fallen away Catholics back to the church and I was featured prominently in their hate-filled and anonymous white paper that circulated around the city of Louisville.  I was loved by many and hated by some.


The gospel is powerful stuff and serious business. Preaching the gospel can bring you great blessings or get you killed. As Father Polycarp Sherwood, one of my St. Meinrad professors, used to tell us: “The gospel is a two-edged sword. It settles the unsettled and unsettles the settled.” In other words, he wanted to remind us that those whose lives are a mess, those who are on the margins of the church, those with nothing more to lose will find comfort in the words of the gospel. On the other hand, he wanted to remind us that those who have the world and the church by the tail, those who have a lot to lose, will be threatened by it. If they love the message of the gospel, they will love the messenger. If they are threatened by the gospel message, they will attack, or even try to kill, the messenger. On many Sundays as a pastor, I was met at the door by two basic groups: those who would marvel at the words that came from my lips and those who wanted to rip my lips off!  Besides Jesus, remember Jeremiah suffered the same rejection! They threw him into an empty, muddy cistern and left him there to die! 


Preaching can be hazardous to your health, but in the end, you can believe this: those who tell you what you want to hear are not necessarily your friends and those who tell you what you don’t want to hear are not necessarily your enemies. Sometimes medicine soothes and sometimes it stings. 


As a preacher, I have always tried to remember that if I get rejected, I hope I get rejected for preaching the gospel, not just get rejected for my own ignorance, stupidity and foolhardiness.  



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