April 24th, 2018, started out like any other day for me. Well, like most other days. I was living in Marlborough, Massachusetts, and working part-time at a church in Framingham, Massachusetts. My wife had just gotten the job she currently has in Connecticut, and we were just a few weeks way from moving down there, and I had a virtual interview at a church using some silly video conferencing software called zoom. Good thing that would never become important in my life.
Around the middle of the day I started feeling sick to my stomach. The nausea worsened into all those food poisoning symptoms that that I won’t go into. Suffice it to say, I couldn’t keep anything down.
My condition continued to worsen throughout the day; by about 3PM I rescheduled my interview with that church. By 4PM, my wife and I agreed that I should go to urgent care, and our only debate was if I should drive myself or wait for her to come home. Thankfully, I waited for her to come home.
She took me to the urgent care at around 5ish as soon as she got home. It was a good thing she drove; I passed out in the car. Once in urgent care, when they saw me, they sat me down and almost immediately called an ambulance.
At this point I started to get worried, as ambulances mean that someone’s having an especially bad day. My wife followed the ambulance in her car, so I was relatively alone, except for the EMTs, who I’m sure did a fantastic job.
I know objectively that the hospital was just across town, less than 10 minutes away, but it seemed like an eternity in that ambulance. It was then that I began to pray, not a beautiful coherent prayer, but the mumbling constantly repeating words to the lord’s prayer- the “our father” prayer.
As for how this story resolves, I got taken into the ER and into the triage nurses’ office, where I promptly passed out again.
By the way, passing out in the triage nurses’ office is a great way to get seen quickly.
It turns out I was severely dehydrated- I was given 2 liters of fluids- and I was able to return home, not too much worse for wear except for a $900 “out of network” ambulance ride. I still don’t know how an ambulance can be “out of network.”
But that experience of repeating the lord’s prayer, over and over, as a source of comfort and peace in a highly stressful situation that was out of my control has stuck with me. It was a peace I have rarely felt since.
When we read our gospel story for today, we often focus on Jesus’ words, as we did last week, or the anger of the hometown crowd. “Truly no prophet is welcome in his hometown.”
Instead, I want us to think of this as a vivid demonstration of Jesus as the prince of peace.
Indeed, this is Jesus’ first brush with death; not at the hands of the Roman army, or an elite religious order, but from his own townsfolk. People he played with as kids, people his mother and father worked with.
Yet as the mob pushed him up to the edge of a cliff to trample him to his death, he walks through the crowd, unharmed. “But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”
I can only imagine the sort of courage, the sort of self-knowledge and self-mastery, The sort of inner peace that it must have taken to do that. I can only imagine Jesus silently mouthing prayers to himself as the crowd parted before him, as much of a miracle as walking on water.
Anyone who has dealt with crowds knows how fickle they can be, especially when one individual becomes the target of the crowd’s anger, as Jesus did.
Jesus was the target of the crowd’s anger because they knew he had the power to heal and deliberately chose not to do so in his hometown. They would have heard the stories from Capernaum and the surrounding villages, of a miracle worker.
I don’t know why Jesus rejected them so forcefully; maybe it was something about the remark “Oh, this is Joseph’s son.”
Maybe it’s that they didn’t want to recognize Jesus for who he was, leaving aside any Christological controversies, refusing to recognize him as a grown independent adult, rather than somebody’s kid. As the youngest of six children, I’ve only begun to be recognized as an actual functioning adult in the last five years. I get it, Jesus.
Or maybe they thought they had some special ownership over this man’s ministry because they knew his father well. Maybe it was the ancient equivalent of someone winning the lottery and suddenly, they have 25 cousins they’ve never met calling at all hours trying to get a piece of that pie. If there’s something we see repeatedly in the Bible, it’s that God cannot be owned, controlled, bossed around, or turned into a vending machine.
I won’t blame them too much for wanting healings and miracles to happen in their village. Let us remember that healthcare was even more precarious in the ancient world than it is now, even in Miami. As much as I can rightly complain about the bureaucracies of medical insurance, as exemplified by an out of network ambulance ride, someone going to a hospital can usually assume that the treatment will not actively hurt them.
In Jesus’ day, the cutting edge of medical science was Erasistratus’ theory of plethora, that ailments were caused undigested particles of food that settled in various organs.
Absurd as this may sound, the treatments recommended- good exercise, vegetables, and digestives- were much better in hindsight than the prevalent theory of the four humors in which ailments were often resolved by bloodletting, which usually left people weaker than they were before.
So, when a healer comes through town, perhaps it was more like hitting the jackpot than we can truly understand.
Either way, something upsets Jesus enough to reject his townsfolk vigorously, and in turn, they get enraged. The mob chases Jesus to the edge of a cliff, ready to throw him to his death.
When people say that being peaceful disconnects folks from society, or that it makes people aloof, a part of me wants to laugh. Although this Bible story isn’t often seen as such, it is a fantastic and relevant example of Jesus as the prince of peace.
As the crowd got angry and violent, Jesus could have summoned legions of angels to protect him; he says as much in the gospel of Matthew as he is arrested for his crucifixion: “Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?”
Yet Jesus does not continue the cycle of violence. He did not summon plagues, no seas turn to blood, no fire and brimstone rains down from the heavens. Jesus was no pushover, his way is not the way of passivity; but it was peaceful. Even in the face of great personal danger, he did not surrender to the whims of the crowd.
If anyone has been to a street protest where the tension has been high, this level of peace toward an angry crowd requires discipline and trust of self and others. To do this solo requires even more so; I think of the folks who put daisies into the barrels of rifles at anti-war protests, the Tank Man at Tiananmen Square, or the young black woman in 2016 who stood her ground in the middle of the road armed only with a sundress and inner peace, as she was violently arrested by heavily armed and armored riot police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
All those folks followed in the way of peace; bending, but not breaking, saying, and doing what needed to be done, but not striking back. I do not know the hearts of each courageous person, but I do suspect that at some level they were filled with an incredible peace. They had to be.
And you know what. That’s what God wants from all of us. There’s a reason that Jesus is the prince of peace; to serve him is to serve peace as well. Not to be passive, but to stop cycles of violence, to stand up for what we must, and to live lives of service and courage.
May it be so.