Is it handbasket or handcart? I’ve heard both. I need to know. Wikipedia isn’t any help. They just add more. Handbag. In a bucket. Great. Lots of help there. When you’re searching for the phrase that describes the current state of affairs in our country, you want to get it right. We are going to hell in a handbasket. Or handcart. Handbag? Bucket. “A phrase,” that same Wikipedia article tells us, “of unclear origin, which describes a situation headed for disaster inescapably or precipitately.” That about sums it up, I would think. The wheels are coming off, the final trumpet has sounded. Turn out the lights the party is over.
Actually I want to take exception to the crowd-sourced Wikipedia definition. That’s too secular for my liking. When I want to invoke the threat of hell, I do it with a decidedly theological bent. We are drifting farther and farther from the goal of the Kingdom that Jesus bled for, or so it appears to me. Some of us by choice, choosing hate rather than love, choosing a fantasy of superiority over a reality of equality, choosing to live in a broken and oppressive past rather than a hard won and strenuous but hopeful future. Choosing to identify enemies instead of discovering brothers and sisters. But then some of us join in the drift by neglect, by silence, by a tacit acceptance of a sinful lie than to strive for a deeper and more difficult truth. To allow a Nazi slogan to be shouted in the streets of our nation and attempt to find goodness in the battle cry of white supremacy and to find those to blame on the side of those who stood against it is to surrender any moral high ground won by years of struggle and fighting to overcome a racist history and live into God’s promised Kingdom.
Us verses Them. It is one of the fundamental fears of any broken human community. Who are the enemies, who should we fear? What makes it difficult is that there are those out there who want to hurt us, simply because we are who we are. We do have enemies. We need to take care, to pay attention, to stay strong. There are responsibilities of a nation to protect its people. No one can deny that. But we can also go crazy if we choose to live in fear. If we choose to see anyone who is different as a threat. If we turn on ourselves and surrender what makes us a part of the family of God. We’ll go crazy. And it is the crazies who seem to winning the day.
Luke 4:21-30 21 Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" 23 He said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, 'Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'" 24 And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. 25 But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
Everything was going so well. Jesus makes his proclamation, preaches His nine word sermon and the applause rains down. I know, that isn’t the way you remember the story. Wasn’t He rejected, didn’t they say He was just a hometown boy getting too big for his britches? Well, not exactly. Not at first. Look again. “All spoke well of Him.” They thought, wow! A hometown boy made good. He’s one of us! He’s ours. Aren’t we special? Aren’t we cool? That little phrase at the end of verse 22 wasn’t disparaging, it was pride. He’s like us.
If Jesus has stopped there, it would have been a glorious homecoming. They would have slapped Him on the back and invited Him to dinner and talked about the good old days when He was a boy and things were so much better back in the Nazareth that used to be once upon a time. Jesus would have been a minor celebrity and they’d all wave to Him in the Walgreen’s parking lot, and want to sit by Him in the bleachers at the high school basketball games. He could have done well back there in the little town.
But He didn’t stop talking. He had a bigger vision than one small town in the hill country of Galilee. So He says, I know you want Me to settle down here, because here is where all the people that matter are. I know you don’t understand why anyone would want to leave Nazareth and go on to other towns and other countries. But you don’t need Me here. You won’t hear Me here.
Wait, He said that? “No prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown.” Different translations have us remember those words in different ways. But what does it mean? Why did He say it? Because He knew what was underneath their approval. And He knew they didn’t want to hear what He came to say. He came to say they were important - that much they heard. God is going to get the kingdom going right here, in Nazareth. That’ll show the folks down the road, in the next county, in the next country. God’s kicking things off right here! Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. Yee haw. He came to say that they were important. But that they weren’t the only important ones in the world. He came to say that God thinks even the stranger, even the foreigner, even the enemy is important. Important enough to save. Important enough to love.
This has been God’s plan from the beginning, Jesus says. You remember Elijah? You remember that story of the widow? God thought she was important, saved her, blessed her, loved her. She wasn’t one of us. You remember Elisha? You remember that guy, that foreign general guy, with the skin problem? That guy was an enemy, a conqueror of people like you. God healed him. God blessed him. God loved him. Get this, he was Syrian.
Syrian? Wait a minute here Jesus. A refugee from Syria? He might be wanting to hurt us. He might be hating us. He might tell us he’s running for his life, but maybe it is just a plot. To catch us with our guard down. Maybe he isn’t really sick. Maybe they aren’t really refugees. Maybe they haven’t lived their whole lives in fear of their lives, surrounded by war and killing and living in an unjust system that doesn’t value them as human beings but rather sees them as pawns in a terrible game of power. Maybe we should protect ourselves first, think of ourselves first.
How dare you, Jesus, tell us to love even those who are different from us. Heck, we struggle to love the others in our pew, don’t go asking us to love across the boundaries that are there to keep us safe. No wonder they got angry. No wonder they turned into a mob. You can’t blame them really. Jesus was inconveniencing them something awful. Asking them to make accommodations, to change ingrained habits, to think differently about who and what a neighbor really is. That’s crazy talk. So, they drove Him out of town, wanted to toss im off a cliff. But He just left. He had places to go, a Word to proclaim, a world to save. He went on His way.
Perhaps the saddest verse in the whole Bible. Evidence that God doesn’t force us to change, to grow, to love like He loves. Doesn’t demand that we become something more, something riskier, something with the potential to change the world for the better. To be more like it was supposed to be in the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth and said it was good! It was good. We don’t have to be a part of the making good. But Jesus isn’t hanging around. He says follow me. And goes on His way.
He leaves them all. Except us, we think. Except me. We don’t want to hurl Him from a cliff. We’re hurling ourselves, each other, those unlike us. The enemy, the bad seed, the outsiders. We’ll toss them aside. We’ll shout them down, we’ll rise up in anger. And in so doing we grab Him by the lapels and in our anger we hoist Him to the edge. And maybe if we’re lucky our eyes will open enough to see Him, face bloodied by our own hatred, and we’ll stop ourselves. And try it His way. When we see the pain in His eyes, and hear His whispered words, “are there none who will not hate?” And we respond, none of them, except ... Will we? Can we? Be the exception in a hate filled world? None of them, except ____. Fill in the blank. Please? Before He goes His way, and leaves us to it.