Have you ever heard the term exit stage left? I guess amongst theater groups it is a regularly used term. I had only ever heard of it in a cartoon, but according to one definition I located says that it is a significant statement within a play or dramatic setting. As I understand it, when it is used, it means an orderly and uneventful departure, timed so as not to detract or distract. Another way to consider this phrase is to see as meaning a person is to exit or disappear in a quiet, non-dramatic fashion, making way for more interesting events. It could even be used as an imperative: to tell someone to leave without making a fuss or causing a scene.
Now growing up, I had this expression coming from the cartoon Snaglepuss. Snagglepuss is a Hanna-Barbera cartoon character created in 1959, this is a pink anthropomorphic cougar sporting an upturned collar, shirt cuffs, and a string tie who has a great desire to be a stage actor. He did not really have his own cartoon show, but could be found in a number of different cartoon shows. People may not him per say, but they may recall his voice and his catchphrases: “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” and “Exit, stage left!” (Wikipedia)
When I did learn the meaning of this particular phrase, it gave me a whole new perspective of what was portrayed when it was said, but it also left me with another question. If that is what exit stage left meant, what would it mean to exit stage right? Would there a distinctly different meaning when a character was to exit stage right? Would this phrase come to mean that an individual when leaving the stage right would bring about more drama and tension. What could it possibly mean? But for whatever reason that alternative phrase never seemed to be utilized.
When I think about Jesus and his encounters with individuals and collections of people, I do not think that many of those encounters ended with an exit stage left sentiment. Frequently there was added tension to the situation after Jesus had performed actions, interacted with people or spoken certain words to the overall community. While for us today we might think of the presence of Jesus as a calming presence, the people who truly encountered him often found their perspective shaken, their viewpoint of world thrown out of kilter. The presence and ministry of Jesus did not necessarily intend to calm down a group of people or soothing the surrounding community. The words and actions of Jesus brought people of that time discomfort and tension as he was calling them to a new way of living and acting. Jesus called people into account and his interactions often led to transformation and internal as well external renovations with people. We may want to consider how we respond to the words of behaviors of Jesus, and see if we are following the call that Jesus placed before us.
The passage that we hear from today is from the Gospel of Luke. It occurs toward the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. I think we can safely say that the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke marks the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. In the initial verses of Chapter four, we are able to hear about Jesus and what he does to begin to prepare himself for his earthly ministry. Jesus goes out into the wilderness He spent 40 days there not eating or drinking. It is hard to say whether this is a literal interpretation of what Jesus did while he was in the wilderness. We do know however he was being intentional about becoming ready to follow his call and start his ministry in the community. Following this time when he went without eating and drinking. Jesus then was faced with questions and challenges from the Devil. He passed that series of tests, and then headed home and began his ministry.
While he in his hometown , Jesus went to the various local synagogues and began teaching there. He made quite the impression. Everyone was impressed with his wisdom and teaching, and praised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue with the intention to teach and preach again. He was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah which he unrolled and began to speak what was written on the scroll.
This leads us into the particular scripture we have for today. He had already demonstrated his skills and abilities. Clearly his abilities and wisdom were impressing people. As he could read, this would have given him a reputation as a learned and wise person. The majority of society at that time was illiterate, and so despite his young age, people would have been willing to listen to him. He had already demonstrated that he was able to teach and so they appear to be very impressed.
Jesus told them that on that day the scripture was to be fulfilled. And everyone seemed quite enamored with the skills of Jesus. Jesus was from this area and so the bulk of the crowd would have likely known Jesus and his family. They would have been aware that the father of Jesus to be a carpenter, or another view would be was that his father was a mason. In either case, both professions would have been viewed as important jobs, yet not projecting much social status for any of the family. The profession the father of Jesus was in would have likely meant that his father could not read, and so most likely none of the rest of the family could. This would not have been surprising, given the different levels society. Yet Jesus was causing people to look at him differently due to his teaching and ability to read. So In spite of the crowd knowing who Jesus’ family was, they expressed their praise of his teaching and understanding. Jesus was demonstrating great learning and prophetic skills
We might be tempted at this point, once the crowd praised Jesus, to suggest that perhaps Jesus should have left things go. Jesus could have offered his thanks to the crowd and then went on his way.
Had Jesus done that, we could have said, hey Jesus followed the concept of exit stage left. Instead, Jesus took the hard road. Jesus stood there and verbally challenged the people that before him
It is a bit surprising that Jesus, as one of his first acts of ministry was to challenge his home town to the point that they would get so upset they would want to throw him over a cliff. But Jesus was anything but complacent. He felt that need to be prophetic, he felt God calling him to challenge his hometown.
While the home crowd appeared to appreciate and believe in Jesus, Jesus then continued to go and speak about how prophets are rejected in their own hometowns. He then made a comparison to Elijah and Elisha with his own ministry. In the ministries that Elijah and Elisha had performed, they had turned to heal and transform the Gentiles as the Israelites were not ready to listen to the,. I think the suggestion in these words is that people of Nazareth will follow the same way. They might have been flattering initially toward Jesus, but he was suggesting in time that they would reject what he would have to say and the Jesus would then to share the good news with other people who may be willing to listen even the other, such as Gentiles.
Whatever the people heard from the words of Jesus, they were angry. No, not angry. They were furious. They were enraged. They were so upset with Jesus that they decided the only thing to do with this young impertinent prophet was to throw him off a cliff. They chased him out of the synagogue, chased him out of town and then found a place to throw him, and attempted to end his life. Jesus however passed through him. So despite their efforts, Jesus exited the area. And while he did not make a scene, I suspect we could say he exited stage right, because he left the townspeople to think about his words toward them and what they were to do in response for days to come.
Can we even contemplate what it might be like to become so upset that we want to hurt another person, even kill them for what they said. Words can sting, they can injure, but to raise the situation to such a level so as to end someone’s life. I would invite us to think about that today. People who say challenging and chastising things are accountable for their words, but people who choose to increase the tension and raise the threat level with physical damage and violence are completely responsible for their actions.
Can we handle criticism appropriately in our lives? Are we able to hear what the people around have to say? Can we be open to when people speak the truth in love? We need to be able to? And when people say challenging words, even destructive statements, does this mean we have the right to reduce a conversation to physical confrontation and violence, or worse.
This does not mean I am condoning bullying behavior, at any level. Words and actions that intimidate other have no place in Christian communities. Our bottom lines is ever and always love, respect and compassion. We can certainly challenge one another in love, we can call one another into account. But we are always responsible for our own words, and our own behaviors. We cannot project that onto other people
I don’[t have time to talk about this cliff that the townspeople were going to throw Jesus off of, and it is interesting to note where this supposedly took place. We will revisit that another morning. But we must realize we are all in need of fine-tuning and reshaping from time to time. We must be open to the Spirt of God being spoken to us, form people around us, through prayers through our experiences. Jesus called into account the people of his hometown. And they could not handle his words, spoken in Godly love. We must learn from this and speak, live, and act accordingly.
Thanks be to God and may the people of God say together amen.