Summary: Jesus asks us the same question he asked Peter long ago at the shore of the Sea of Galilee; namely “Do you love me?” What he is really asking is “Do you love me more than anyone or anything else?
There was once an evangelist named Billy Sunday. He was the Billy Graham of his generation. He was conducting a crusade in a particular city, and in one sermon he said something critical of labour conditions for workers in that city. After the service, several businessmen sent him a message which read as follows: “Billy, leave labour matters alone. Concentrate on getting people saved. Stay away from political issues. You’re rubbing the fur the wrong way”. Billy Sunday sent this message back to them: “If I’m rubbing the fur the wrong way, tell the cats to turn around”.
I wonder if the congregation in this morning’s gospel reading was just as upset by Jesus’ comments as the businessmen were by Billy Sunday’s message. After all, here was Jesus, a simple, common local man who was saying such profound things………things that they didn’t want to hear. He was welcomed as a hometown hero……..until he exposed the darkness of their souls. That darkness included the view that they were “holier than thou”. They thought that Jesus should save his miracles and teachings for them, instead of including people they regarded as human trash; namely the Gentiles and others who were rejected by society.
They did not realize something that we often fail to realize today. The church is not a club or a membership organization. It is a place where Christ is preached and proclaimed, where disciples are made and nurtured, and a place where we confront ourselves. We have to realize that we are not who we think we are, but instead we are sinners who have been redeemed by a God who sent his son to die for us. The church is where we gather as sisters and brothers who are different from each other but who are one people gathered at the font and the table and sent out to serve in so many different ways.
Jesus came to free sinners from the bonds of guilt, sin and corruption. He is the servant referred to in the passage he read from Isaiah. Now the Jews had been waiting for centuries for a Messiah to rescue them from the bonds of oppression, but they weren’t ready for him when he came. They expected a military-type of Messiah who would drive the Romans out and return Israel to the glory days of the reign of King David. Instead, what they got was someone who was far from their expectations-a simple, common man from a simple, common background who would do extraordinary things such as heal the sick, cure the lame, save sinners and associate with outcasts such as sinners and tax collectors. They did not realize that in fact they were the ones who needed healing and saving. (Pause)
When someone is different or doesn’t meet our expectations, how do we treat them? Do we accept them for who they are, or do we reject them because they are different or because they don’t belong? I found myself in a situation like this when my family moved here in 1973. When I started school that year, I was shunned to the point of being bullied, largely because I didn’t fit in and because of where I was from.
The people in the congregation were indeed “holier than thou”. They thought that they were better than everyone else. They wanted to keep Jesus for themselves and away from the social outcasts. We are the same today. We sometimes think that we are better than others because we belong to the right church or club, or go to the right schools, or live in the right neighbourhood. When we meet other people do not go to the same church, club or school, or live in the wrong neighbourhood, we sometimes look down on them. For example, I heard my father tell the story one time of an incident that happened before my family moved here. One day he was in the post office in the community we were living in when a lady came in and started having a conversation with him. At one point, she asked him which church he went to. When he told her, she said, “Well, that’s what I was afraid of!” and stormed out of the post office.
There was another example of this “holier than thou’ attitude in the Chronicle-Herald this past Thursday. Some of you may have seen the story about the devout Anglican in Glace Bay who died last year. He died without a wife or children, and under the terms of his will, which was written approximately 25 years ago, his house could only be sold to someone who was an Anglican or a Presbyterian. The executor too this to the Nova Scotia Supreme Court, and the he judge ruled that since the Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the purchase of sale of property on the basis of religion, this restriction was illegal