Radio talk show host Howard Stern has a knack for pushing people’s buttons. Rosie O’Donnell has a similar gift. The Rev. Al Sharpton knows how to get under a person’s skin too. So does his polar opposite, Rush Limbaugh. Need I mention Joan Rivers or Lady Gaga? These people can say some very divisive things.
But leading the pack of Greatest Inflammatory Speakers is none other than Jesus Christ of Nazareth. If there was ever someone who could provoke others to anger, it was him. Jesus said things that incited listeners to attempt to kill him more than once.
Let me give you one such example. Early in his ministry, Jesus went to his hometown and preached a message from the book of Isaiah. Below is a portion of what he said:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk. 4:18-19).
Nice message. “Peace, love, freedom.” That will sell. Luke tells us that “All spoke well of him.” And who wouldn’t?! It is safe, positive, feel-good.
Until Jesus gets specific.
He brings up the stories of Zarephath the widow and Namaan the leper and all hell breaks out (see 1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 5, respectively).
Why? What was so upsetting about what Jesus said?
Jesus preached inclusivism. The widow of Zarephath and Namaan the leper were from hated nations, and Jesus was saying, “No more lines of demarcation or walls of separation. Everybody is welcome. Everybody is loved.”
That was too much for the Jews. They hated the Sidonians and the Syrians, the Amorites and the Moabites, the Romans and the Greeks. They hated Gentiles . . . period. Gentiles had been their oppressors for centuries. Gentiles had leveled their cities, raped their wives, killed their children, and destroyed their businesses. Gentiles represented tyranny and pain. And Jesus had the nerve to say a new day had arrived. An end to the years of hostility. An end to the divide. This was the year of God’s favor.
Jesus is pro Jew, pro non Jew; pro Israeli, pro Gentile.
That message was too much for Jesus’ hearers. They drove him out of the village and set about to throw him off a cliff.
If you have a hard time understanding this kind of rage, think about it this way. Jesus’ words would be the equivalent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt recommending the Allied Forces throw a party for the Nazis during WWII. Or it would be like President Nixon preparing a stadium wide celebration for the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War. Or today, it would be like President Obama offering to bring a traveling carnival with all the rides and eats (elephant ears included!) to the Taliban.
If that picture doesn’t help, try this next fourth of July. Put a sign up on your front lawn with the words “God bless Afghanistan.” I guarantee, you’ll get a reaction. I wouldn’t even be surprised if your house got vandalized. And if you live on a hill, watch out.
Jesus’ message was a call to love all peoples regardless of their nationality, race, socioeconomic status, political persuasion, religious affiliation, or sexual orientation. We are called to love our abusers and oppressors. We are called to love those whose values, beliefs, and morals are completely opposite to ours. We are called to love those who are mean, bullyish, and downright devilish. We are called to love them by doing good to them. Forgiving them. Helping them. Empowering them.
Jesus inaugurated Jubilee. This is the year of the Lord’s favor. Jesus came to tear down the walls, remove the prejudice, and open wide the gates. He came to love all—including and most especially the difficult, the undeserving, the unlikely.
Like the Sterns and Limbaughs of the world.