What He Told the Hometown Crowd

This post is a part of the May Synchroblog.

A lot of folks have opinions about what Jesus was about. You’ve heard them all before — good moral teacher, revealing the Christ consciousness in all of us, whatever. In the ecclesiastical tribe I grew up in, we thought Jesus was all about dying for sinners so we could go to heaven when we die.

But what did Jesus Himself say?

Well, Jesus said quite a lot, and I’m not going to try to give it an exhaustive treatment. But there’s one particular venue that I think sheds a special light on who Jesus is and what He came to do. Jesus grew up in Nazareth — lived there until He was 30 or so. Then He began His ministry, but He didn’t begin by ministering just down the block from His childhood home. His first miracle was in Cana, and He was already traveling and teaching with a few disciples at that point. He continued His life as an itinerant teacher, but eventually, His circuit of the Galillean cities did bring him back to His hometown.

Luke 4 tells us the story. Jesus is in town for the Sabbath, so of course he goes to the synagogue like any visiting rabbi would do. Asked to read and comment on the Scriptures, he steps up and reads this from the scroll of Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

And then He goes and sits down, and everybody stares at him. Any good commentator can help you fill in the cultural gaps here: the rabbis would stand to read the Scriptures, and then sit down to teach, so Jesus was following the accepted pattern in that regard, but He stopped reading in the middle of a sentence. The sentence finishes “…and the day of the vengeance of our God,” and of course everybody present knew it, having heard this passage read countless times throughout their lives. The omission is significant, but we’ll save that conversation for another day.

Right now I want to focus on what happens next. Remember, Jesus had grown up in this town, and lived there as a single man until He was 30. He played there as a child, worked there as a builder, worshipped in this very synagogue for most of his life. The people sitting around Him at this moment are his aunts and uncles, childhood friends, teachers, suppliers, subcontractors, bosses, clients. They know him. They know that he left town to do heaven-knows-what, and that he has been wandering about the countryside as an itinerant teacher, preaching and gathering disciples. They have heard stories of how he’s healed the sick and cast out demons. And they know, better than anybody, that he’s not a rabbi’s son, not some up-and-coming revivalist. He’s a construction worker, for crying out loud, not an exorcist.

And now here he is in the synagogue for the first time since all this weirdness started, and the first thing he does is screw up the Bible reading. What is going on? What is he all about?

Jesus tells them: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Wow. So he means it like this: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted….” “Me,” he says. “I’m the one.”

He continues to speak, and they are amazed at His message, but they can’t reconcile what they are now hearing with the Jesus that they know — Joseph’s boy, the construction worker. It’s hard to take. Jesus sees the problem and calls it out, and all hell — literally — breaks loose as Nazareth becomes the first Jewish city to try to murder her Messiah. But again, that’s a discussion for another time.

For now, let’s focus on what Jesus said. When He was in front of the hometown crowd that wanted to know what He was about, He summed up His calling in a few bullet points from Isaiah, and one of them was this: He came to heal the brokenhearted.

***

This is significant to me because I didn’t believe it for most of my life. I literally do not remember a time when I was not a Christian, but receiving comfort from God was simply not part of my experience. I didn’t believe that He cared. God had a plan, sure, and it would all be gloriously worth it on the other side, I had no doubt. But “you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs,” as the man said, and God was making the biggest omelette of them all.

I didn’t just harbor these thoughts in those angst-filled teenaged moments when I was writing bad poetry, either. This was my day-to-day experience. The God I knew called for sacrifice and obedience, for pulling yourself together and getting the job done, for a stiff upper lip. God was M, as played by Dame Judi Dench. For those of you who saw Skyfall, “Take the bloody shot!” about sums it up. I knew He would burn me out, use me up in a heartbeat if it would help Him further the Grand Plan, whatever it was, and leave me a scarred husk of a human being. I knew it.

What made me so sure? That’s what was actually happening to me. Outwardly my life was proceeding well, but my inner life was withering away. The breastplate of righteousness (as I understood it) had become a straitjacket. My heart had been broken since I was a kid. I literally couldn’t remember a time when I felt whole, when I felt like being me was okay. I spent a big chunk of my formative years surrounded by people who hated me, and that didn’t help me any, either.

In my teenage years, I had learned to forgive — and that was huge for me — but I had been raised to believe that if I forgave people, that was it. Actual healing wasn’t even a category we talked about. To the extent that it was even considered, healing was assumed to happen automatically over time. It just wasn’t true, and I was unable to really love other people well as I labored under the weight of my own accrued injuries. I had been hurt and hollow for so long I didn’t know it was possible to feel any different. I didn’t even have the vocabulary for what was wrong with me.

Other people could see it — or some of it, anyway — and would say things like “God won’t ever give us something we can’t handle.” Of course it wasn’t true.

***

There’s no checklist for helping someone in that situation, but I can tell you what helped me. The first thing was that God did give me things I couldn’t handle. A lot of them, until the accumulated weight of them was crushing me. Until I finally admitted I couldn’t carry the load without Him.

By God’s providence, I found myself in a community of people who were open to supernatural ministry. Beyond their relational wisdom, grasp of Scripture, and (in some cases) clinical skills, they were willing to have God show up and do…whatever. Whatever needed to be done. I found that when we gathered, the Spirit was active. The lies I had believed about God began to surface — some of them shown to me directly by the Spirit during our times of worship, others spotted by a wise friend, and some called out prophetically by gifted brothers and sisters.

Two particular incidents stand out in my mind. In one of them, God showed me in the middle of a worship service that I did not really believe He had my good in mind. As I struggled with that — because I really didn’t believe it, and admitting it out loud didn’t change that — two prophets sat with me and began to speak — how God saw me, what He envisioned for me. It was one of the first times I experienced being comforted by God.

The other incident that springs to mind was an occasion when we were dividing up responsibilities for a service we were planning. Now, I’ve been a pastor for some years, a solo church planter, and a lot of other things, and there really wasn’t anything on the list that I couldn’t do. So when they asked me what I wanted to do, I said “Just tell me what you need me to do, and I’ll do it.” The whole room went quiet. Into the awkward silence, the pastor gently said, “I know that. But what do you want to do?” I knew what I wanted to do. I had known as soon as we laid out what needed to be done. But even among people who loved me well, people I trusted, it didn’t occur to me to say it out loud, until someone specifically asked for it. Among these dear brothers and sisters, I began to learn that God had made me to be something in particular, and leaning into the desires He gave me was the path to growth.

A little later, I met a group of people who practice and teach healing prayer, and through their ministry to me and beside me, I came to know Jesus as the Great Physician of my soul. The experiences I had there are a little too close for me to write about yet, and would take too long to explain for this post anyway. Suffice it to say, it was not a matter of doctrine or of guided imagery or any other such human manipulation. These dear brothers and sisters simply trusted Christ to be present to heal even when I did not believe that He wanted to, and asked Him to reveal Himself to me.

He did, and I love Him because He first loved me. Tangibly.

***

Paul said to “comfort one another with the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted,” and I finally know what that means. It’s not actually that complicated — “Freely you have received,” Jesus said. “Freely give.”

I can only give what I have been given. The comfort Jesus gave me was not doctrine, although it can be described doctrinally. It was Himself. That’s all I really have to offer. When I sit with someone in pain, Jesus is there, sitting next to us. He has something to contribute. Mostly, all I do is ask what it is.

***

This post is a part of the May 2013 Synchroblog. Other posts on the same topic are below:

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5 Responses to What He Told the Hometown Crowd

  1. Thank you so much for this.
    I resonate deeply with everything you said – the loneliness, the heartbreak, the dutiful soldiering on while feeling hollow inside.
    And the joy of discovering the Christian life is more than words: there’s a God who really knows and loves us. What a wonder to learn that.
    Thank you for focusing our attention on Jesus as the one who heals the broken-hearted. I’ve heard that scripture more times than I know, but you’ve pulled it to life for me in a very new way.

  2. Tim Nichols says:

    Carol,

    Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad the post was a blessing for you.

  3. Jeremy Myers says:

    Beautiful, insightful post, Tim.

    Out of curiosity… and maybe you don’t want to say (or did I miss it?)… what was it that you wanted to do for the service you were planning?

  4. Tim Nichols says:

    Jeremy,

    I was speaking/praying blessing over each person as they came through the communion line.

    Biblical habits of blessing have intrigued me for some time, and I wanted to lean into it a bit and see what happened.

  5. It’s good to bless, Tim. Thanks for sharing that. And I think you make a very important point when you say ‘[we] can only give what [we] have been given’.

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