I am afraid of heights even though I don’t want to be. If I am up high and get the feeling like I could fall, vertigo hits in a big way. I get dizzy and hear buzzing in my ears which increases the feeling that I could fall. It doesn’t matter how safe I am, it happens and I cannot rationalize it away. Truthfully, though, I don’t avoid heights. If need be, I will climb the ladder or the mountain, walk along the bluffs, and peer over the edge. The vertigo will hit and the dizziness will come with its buzzing in my ears and I will wait for it to pass. And it does. Everytime.
I read the passage about the people of Nazareth pushing Jesus to the edge of a cliff because they were angry at him. They were angry that he spoke truth in their midst and challenged the status quo. They were just going to push him over the edge of a cliff so they could resume their life as usual. I would like to think that I wouldn’t have joined in with that crowd that day. I would like to think I was among those who helped Jesus slip through the fear and anger and go on to another town. However, I’m not so sure that would be the case.
Everyday I hear about someone pushing Jesus off a cliff and sometimes it’s me who gives the last push. You know what I mean. When someone claims to be a follower of Jesus and refuses to act with love and compassion. When someone says they are Christian and pretends not to see the person sitting out in the cold asking for help. When someone professes Christ and then engages in politics of hatred. When Christians remain silent while racism governs too much of what passes for justice. When Christians hide behind the law and blame victims for the violence they experience. When Christians think that Jesus was white and endorsed the same supremacist views they hold now. All these things push Jesus to the edge of the cliff. Then my own collusion in the racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and zenophobia push him right off the edge.
The irony here is unmistakable. Those Nazarenes wanted to throw Jesus off the cliff because he challenged them to see beyond the limits of their comfort. He wanted them to see God-in-their-midst, standing right in front of them. He wanted them to take a stance against their oppressors. He wanted them to break free of the status quo and claim their power in love, love of themselves and love of their neighbors. He wanted them to live life without the limits of fear and hatred. He wanted them to claim their place by his side as siblings, neighbors, friends, as God’s beloved. He wanted them to claim their place and leave no one out.
They couldn’t do it. They couldn’t hear what he had to say. They couldn’t see who he was. Their fear and complacency was way too powerful. They believed the lies of their oppressors. They believed they were powerless to change the norms of their day. They chose security and predictability over the unpredictable safety of loving those around them with unconditional love that comes from seeking the Divine in everyone, even the Romans and those in Rome’s employ. They chose the security of the Empire over the intensity of living in God’s love. And they tried to push Jesus off a cliff.
Isn’t it time for us to line up along the edge of that cliff and prevent anyone from throwing Jesus over? It’s scary, I know. When you step close to the edge, there’s nothing at your back. Vertigo might hit hard. Your ears might fill with a buzzing sound. Your knees might grow week. But take a breath and take the hand of the person standing next to you. Life on the edge doesn’t mean life alone. All the people who have been dismissed and dehumanized are right there, too. They’ve been waiting to be seen and heard while trying not to fall over the edge into the abyss.
Maybe we should all take a look around and ask ourselves where we are in terms of that cliff. Are we in the heart of the Empire trying to keep ourselves secure? Have we sentenced others to walk the cliff edge so we can keep our privilege? How many times have we pushed Jesus off the cliff so we can keep ignoring the needs of our neighbors? It’s time we address our fears. Our fear of heights and our fear of Love. It’s not too late. Just reach out a hand and see God-in-our-midst in the eyes of your neighbor. The Empire has no power if we unite with everyone on the margins and refuse to send anyone over the cliff.
RCL – Year C – Fourth Sunday after Epiphany – February 3, 2019
1 Corinthians 13:1-13