Sunday, October 24, 2010

Throwing Jesus Off the Cliff

I've had a number of comments, both here and by email, around this topic of "getting mad at the pastor" and someone asked for the reference about Jesus nearly getting thrown off the cliff. The story starts out well-- after the temptation in the wilderness, Jesus returns to his hometown.

14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

At first glance, all seems to be going swimmingly. Jesus reads from Isaiah, and the words are incredibly encouraging and hopeful, and he even goes so far as to say, "This is IT. It's happening NOW." The locals, the ones who watched as Jesus grew up in Mary and Joseph's home, are thrilled.

Then things get a little funky.

23He 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.’” 24And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25But 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; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

Suddenly, the word the people had heard as comforting gets turned around a bit-- indeed, it becomes clear pretty quickly that they believe it's been turned on them. The gist of what Jesus is saying is, the good news of God's love extends beyond the boundaries of religion and race and ethnicity. The good news of God's love went to a widow who wasn't a Jew. The good news of God's love extended to a leper who was leading an enemy army. Ooops. It's all right there in scripture. Guess what? God is bigger than the little categories you and I try to lock her in.

28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They 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. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. ~ Luke 4:14-30

Yeah, that really comes as no surprise.  The people perceived that the good news had turned bad. Solution: get rid of the pesky prophet. But something stopped them. And along Jesus went on his merry way.

I think congregations and congregation members get mad at pastors for all sorts of reasons. Some are not so cool with the fullness of the pastor's identity coming to the fore. (Thank God, I had only a little of that when I came out). Some feel neglected by the pastor, sometimes justifiably, sometimes not. Sometimes the congregation and the pastor have different ideas of mission and what it means to do ministry together-- just a case of a bad match. Sometimes it's so intangible it's hard to put into words why these relationships take a southward turn.

I am interested in the question asked in the comments. For those in ordained ministry, how do you respond when the anger of your congregants becomes an issue? How does it feel? How do you cope? And how do you know when (if) it's time to go?

I'm grateful to say that I am not dealing with anything like this in my ministry at present (that I know of... sometimes I realize anger and hurt lurk quietly for a long time). But I know many of my colleagues deal with it. What say you? And-- how about this-- how do you deal with your own anger?


Jules said...

Well, then. As you can imagine I have quite a bit to say on this subject, but am not really free to say these things freely over at my place.

I'll try to not hijack your comments, but I will say this:

My last ministry setting was in a place where folks had been carefully taught that unpleasant feelings should stay bottled up. When I say "carefully", I mean over decades, and systematically in the context of an extremely and harmfully co-dependent relationship. When the final denouement of my ministry came, I think they were genuinely shocked that I did not know how much they (the small but powerful group) hated me--they'd hidden most of it from me, but not from each other. But somehow I was supposed to "know". (Looking back, there were clues. A specific group of them began bringing books to church to read during the sermon. In my effort to appear non-anxious I ignored it. Mistake, I now see.)

On the other hand, my attempts at authenticity were extremely threatening to them. They'd never been treated as thinking, feeling grownups with accountability. They dealt with the anxiety of that in the only way they thought they could. The idea of possibly changing themselves terrified them.

After it all fell apart, I had anger in spades, much of it at God. It has taken me a very long time to work through it. The whole episode left me with a lot more insight into how people let anger and hatred seethe right beneath the surface. Next time I will lovingly take the risk to confront anger and disrespect.

God_Guurrlll said...

I met with my Pastor Parish Committee recently. They seem resigned to the notion that in a volunteer organization it is the paid staff who get become targets of petty complaints etc. That the frustrations that I'm dealing with as an ordained leader of a small church are part and parcel of life in a rural town. As they shared their insights I asked them, "But does it have to be this way?"

As an interim I'm trying to help the congregation deal with dysfunctional behavior in a healthy way. However most just shrug their shoulders and say "Can't please everybody" and "Your always going to upset half the congregation."