It’s no accident that Jesus’ rejection in his hometown synagogue immediately precedes the mission of the “twelve.” “The kingdom of God has drawn near” is not good news for all — and I suspect that over these last two millennia, not much has changed. There always has been and always will be resistance to the true power of God’s love, mostly because it is indeed God’s love. When we realize that this is a love over which we have no control, a love that will infiltrate the world like a persistent weed despite our best efforts to curb its spread, a love whereby we do not get to decide its objects, it seems less attractive than it did at first blush. The sooner the disciples, the sooner we, understand that the better.
It’s a hard lesson to learn, a hard truth to believe. After all, we want desperately for the world, the entire world, to experience God’s love and grace and mercy — and why on earth would anyone want otherwise? We have committed our lives to the vocation of preaching God’s love. And yet these days, it seems clear that is not the wish of all. The louder voices, the more dominant voices, get the airtime to proclaim the selectivity of God’s love and that somehow, by some miracle of their own making, they are the ones privy to God’s choices.
More often than not, rejection of any kind is symptomatic of a larger issue. In the case of resistance to the indiscriminate nature of God’s love, the underlying disease is idolatry. The worship of that which has been put in place over God is more than prevalent — it has seeped into our society so as to be almost ubiquitously accepted, even validated and justified. We almost can’t see it anymore, recognize it anymore. But we should always be on guard against it. We know it well — and yet more often than not, it’s the very thing that trips us up, trips up the church. We think we will be able to see it coming. We think we’ve moved passed it. But history teaches us that our track record shows a different reality.
I imagine we are quite aware of these idols with some being more obvious than others — power, money, influence — and not even the church and its institutions are immune to the sway and appeal of such attractions. We put more faith in the Bible than we do different experiences of God in our midst, when in fact the truth of the Bible is that God is known in personal and communal experience. We pledge allegiance to the flag and not the Lamb (Luke Powery, Festival of Homiletics 2018). We put our trust in age-old systems of patriarchy and privilege and patriotism because they are what we know, they are more familiar. We uphold policies and principles over people, traditions and denominations over new witness to God’s presence, hierarchies and ecclesial structures over our very claims that level the playing field of one’s place in the kingdom of God.
But the less observable form of idolatry, and perhaps the more difficult to call out, is the worship of the self. It’s the love of the self that thinks God’s love can be controlled. It’s the love of the self that insists God’s love can be meted out in measured increments. It’s the love of the self that demands God’s love be adjudicated based on worth and merit, which is usually accompanied by comparison and competition.
The disciples, then and now, are sent out knowing God’s love for them known in Jesus but will quickly realize not everyone will see what they know. It’s in those moments that the mission gets dangerous. Yes, it’s a hard mission regardless. But it suddenly gets even more difficult when the love they preach is dismissed by others, they start to wonder about themselves.
Because rejection sets in motion a kind of unraveling, doesn’t it? Causing a questioning of the self. Justification of the self. Validation of the value of the self. All of which are located in external forces that clamor for our attention and our loyalties. And all of a sudden, you start trusting, believing in that which makes you feel loved in the moment, worthy in the moment, rather than the one who made you feel more loved than ever before in your whole life.
Rejection is never something easily sloughed off as, “Oh, well. That’s their problem” or, “That’s ok, I’ll just move on.” Jesus knows. Rejection is what eats at the soul, even a soul already saved. So, Jesus goes first. Jesus always does.