Scripture: Luke 4:14-30
In 1962, Dick Rowe, an executive responsible for signing new talent, sat through an audition that he found mostly unimpressive. The band had a sound that was different, especially for what was trending in the U.K. music scene at the time. Rowe rejected the band infamously saying, “Guitar groups are on their way out.” This was not the first time this quartet of aspiring musicians had faced criticism of their aspirations. For the most part their families tried to dissuade them from their chosen career path and instead encourage them to take up more traditional and stable jobs. The primary caregiver for one of the members told him, “The guitar is all well and good but you will never make a living from it.” Despite not having the full support of family members and despite their initial rejection John, George, Paul, and Ringo continued to pursue their dream and it arguably worked out well for them. Their band, the Beatles, is considered by many to be the most influential rock band of all time. The early experience of the Beatles is on that has been mirrored by many other people who ended up being revolutionary talents. For instance famed inventor Thomas Edison was once told by a teacher he was too stupid to learn anything, and Walt Disney of all people was once fired for not being imaginative enough. In a perfect world everyone would be surrounded by encouragers who have our back and speak words to build up. Unfortunately, so many people have had the opposite experience. Like the Beatles, Edison, or Disney it seems the loudest voices are the ones that tell us we can’t.
Psychology points to why this negativity might be such a common experience. Humanity in general tends to have a negativity bias. This means that we register negative stimuli more readily and we are more likely to be affected by and dwell on these experiences. This is why we can be praised for our good work a 100 times but it will be the one criticism we remember and cannot shake. Another aspect of a negativity bias is that it is a lot easier for us to identify the negative of a situation than it is the positive, and this leads to stories like once in a generation musicians being passed up, out of the box thinkers being told they are not good students by teachers, and creative geniuses not being recognized for what they are. As this morning’s scripture points out the negativity bias also leads messiahs being rejected. If we take the lessons of this morning’s scripture to heart then we can better overcome the negativity in how we treat others as well as ourselves.
At first glance this scripture seems to escalate quickly. Jesus reads from Isaiah, someone heckles him, Jesus claps back, and then they are running him out of town and trying to throw him off a cliff! A little bit of a deeper read gives us a fuller picture of the story. It was common for traveling rabbis or Pharisees to be invited to the synagogue to read scripture and share their understanding of it. It seems that Jesus was afforded this honor when he visited his hometown. This is near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He had established himself in Capernaum and had apparently begun doing some miracles. Nazareth and Capernaum are around 28 miles apart, and the journey could be made in one day if necessary. So it is likely that the people of Jesus’ hometown had heard a lot of stories. Perhaps they wanted to see just what all of the rumors they were hearing were really about.
This morning’s scripture is likely only a summary of the events that happened in Nazareth that day. The Rabbinic teaching method was less a lecture or a sermon and more of a back and forth. The people were expected to ask questions, share viewpoints, and even challenge the rabbi. It is likely that Jesus’s interaction in Nazareth followed this model, and it seems initially it went well as verse 22 states “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” However, as the dialogue went on someone finally ask, “Isn’t this Joseph son?” and from there it all went south.
As we consider the response that the people of Nazareth had to Jesus we have to first, consider what Jesus read. He read from Isaiah 58, and this scripture was understood to be referring to the work of the Messiah. When the people in Nazareth heard this scripture read they would have understood it to be a description of the work that the coming Messiah would do on behalf of the people of Israel. Jesus makes it clear right off the bat why he picked that scripture, “He began by saying to them ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing. ‘ ”
There is no mistaking it, Jesus was claiming to be the messiah. Jesus made this claim throughout his ministry and often when he makes this claim there is pushback. So we should not be surprised that it happened here, in fact it honestly should be expected. Ancient Nazareth was not a big place. Scholarly estimates put it Ancient Nazareth at most just over a thousand people to only being populated by a few hundred. It was not a big city, and it was the kind of place where everyone knew everyone else, and all of their business. We do not know how long Jesus was away from his hometown before he came back, but it has to be emphasized that these people knew him. They watched him grow up. So when Jesus essentially tells them, I am the messiah, it makes sense that the negativity bias kicks in. Instead of continuing to affirm his grace-filled words, they begin to focus on the negative, begin to list all of the reasons why someone from Nazareth, and Jesus specifically could not be the Messiah. It also should not surprise us too much that when Jesus calls them out on this by referencing the story of Elijah, the people double down and try to literally throw Jesus out of town. This should not surprise us, because again this is experience that so many have today. Perhaps you have been in the unfortunate situation to interact with people who seem to only see the negative and the only words they offer up are ones of discouragement and criticism. It seems the words of Jesus that rang true in the first century are true today. A prophet is without honor in their home country or in other words haters are gonna hate.
This morning’s scripture gives us two prominent examples of behavior. How the people of Nazareth acted and how Jesus responded. As we consider how we can apply this scripture and use it to grow as disciples today, I think we can get a lot of out of these two examples. One is an example of what not to do and the other is an example of what to do.
How the people of Nazareth acted gives us the example of what not to do. We may all have a negativity bias but that does not mean we need to lean into it. When someone shares their dream, their passion, or as in the case of this morning’s scripture-their God given calling then we should resist the knee-jerk reaction to be critical and focus on the negative. Sometimes people will try to spin focusing on the negative as a positive. They will claim they are “just being the devil’s advocate”. Friends, the devil already has enough advocates in this world. As the people of God, let’s be advocates for something else. Let’s advocate for joy, for peace, for kindness, for generosity. Let’s advocate for new dreams, big ideas, and outside the walls thinking that seeks to glorify God, make disciples and transform the world.
This does not mean we should by default enthusiastically support every wild idea. There is still a place for process, refinement, accountability, and discernment. However, we should be slow to discourage and quick to encourage. As the people of God, we should be known as encouragers. Our actions and words should communicate to the world around us that we care about them and for them. Words that encourage and build up do a lot more to communicate our love and support for other people than words that discourage and tear down. I am fully convinced this world would be a more kind, a more loving, and a better place if Christians had a much stronger reputation of being encouragers. So may we do our part to earn that reputation, let’s be people who are known for building others up and advocating for them.
The example Jesus gives in this scripture is one that we should follow, and it also has to do with our negativity bias. Often the way we are most impacted by negativity bias is how we allow negativity to personally impact us. In general we tend to recall insults better than praise. We are much quicker to internalize the negative, and we let one dismissive comment or rude remark ruin an otherwise great day. . .or week. Often we allow the critical and the negative to take up too much of our headspace and influence too much of how we view ourselves. In this morning’s scripture Jesus shows us how we also should react to this negativity. He does not get defensive, he does not get embroiled in petty arguments, and he does not change his position just to accommodate the critics. What Jesus does is he states the truth as best as he can and eventually he walks away. It is worth noting that when Jesus walked through the crowd and went on his way, he was not necessarily turning his back on them. This scripture is about how Nazareth rejected Jesus, not how Jesus rejected Nazareth. When Jesus went to the cross he went to the cross to die for the sins of everyone even those who rejected him.
We should try to adopt a similar attitude. When we are confronted by the unfair comments, the unnecessary critique, and the negativity of others may not internalize it, may we not engage in the same base behavior, but may we also not write people off completely. May we truly follow the path of Jesus and be encouragers even to those who seek to discourage us.
This is an important faith lesson for us to learn and to take to heart because one of the realities this morning’s scripture reveals is we can be faithful to God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, follow in Christ’s example to share God’s love in a new way, and be guaranteed that someone is going to hate it. Whenever we do something truly significant that can make a real difference, then there is going to be opposition to it. Jesus experienced that in this morning’s scripture, and Christians faithfully following God have had that same experience throughout history.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement experienced it. During his day churches were not doing so hot at evangelism, so Wesley declared the world is my parish and began preaching in fields and in places outside of sanctuaries where workers gathered. In response the Anglican priests would actually pay people to throw rotten vegetables or manure at Wesley in an attempt to silence him.
Another example is Frances Willard a powerhouse of a woman in the 19th century. Concerned by the negative effects that alcohol had on families she began the temperance movement, and the latter part of the 19th century the temperance league was the largest women’s organization in the country. She sought to systemically deal with this issue and campaigned not just for temperance but also for women’s suffrage, child labor laws, and the eight hour work day. Willard was a dedicated Methodist, and she stated that women as well as men could be called by God to preach. Throughout her life in all of these holy task that she advocated for, Willard met stiff resistance, jeering, and outrage-often from other Christians.
Haters are going to hate, but that does not mean that we should deviate from being faithful to God. Haters are going to be hate, but that does not mean we need to as well. May we be quick to learn from the examples of this scripture. May we be slow to critique and may we be quick to encourage. May we be known by words and actions that build others up. When we face our own share of negativity, May we not let it discourage us from following the path God has put before us. May we not respond in kind but in kindness. In doing so may we declare to the world haters are gonna hate, but Christians are going to love. May that be the message we pass on.