I love the scene in “A Few Good Men” when Jack Nicholson’s character looks at the military lawyer questioning his leadership of his troops in Guantanamo. It’s at a pivotal part of the drama. The commandant, Colonel Jessup, was a rough and tough Marine leader. He was a strong man, and he didn’t have any respect for the Navy Colonel lawyer questioning his judgement in leading his men. In that moment Colonel Jessup looks at the defense lawyer and says the famous line “You can’t handle the truth!”
He then goes on to describe how a dangerous world needs men like him to stand on the wall and protect the society. I confess, I always get chills when those lines are said in the movie, mainly because I’ve known men like that who do the hard work of protection even when it isn’t popular. But, Colonel Jessup isn’t a hero. He’s a man who went too far and he is the bad guy in the movie!
Look at our lesson in Luke 4:22-30:
At that time, the crowd spoke of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth; and they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself; what we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here also in your own country.'” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha; and none of them was cleansed but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and put him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. But passing through the midst of them he went away.
Unlike our Colonel Jessup above, our Lord Jesus faced a situation in His hometown that ended with Him having to speak uncomfortable truths to the people in His hometown. You see, these folks had watched the Lord grow up. they knew His foster father, Joseph. They probably had some of the furniture that the Lord and Joseph had built for their homes. They thought they knew Him. But they didn’t!
Jesus confronts their spiritual blindness with a harsh mercy! He confronts them with their smug false security in their supposed familiarity with Who He really is. He goes to their hearts and uncovers their spiritual poverty with plain talk that doesn’t make Him any friends. And yet, He loves them too much to leave them in their spiritual blindness. As painful as that is, it would have been more unloving to leave them spiritually sick!
Jesus reminds these hometown folks about the stories of their Jewish past. And he brings up two, specific moments that illustrate perfectly their real situation. He reminds these folks about Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, a city outside Israel. Elijah, God’s prophet is instructed to go outside the Jewish people to save this widow’s life. And then Jesus reminds these folks of Naaman the King of the Assyrians, the enemies of the Israel, and how God healed Naaman from leprosy when there were lepers in Israel that weren’t healed! Jesus was reminding these folks that any trust in their special relationship with God because of the Faith was meaningless if they weren’t actually practicing the Faith. God had found faithful outside the so-called “chosen people” before and He will again!
The anger that these plain words from Jesus produced in His hometown folks proved the spiritual illness they were all suffering from. They thought God’s mercy was “automatic” because of their “ethnicity” and Jesus was showing clearly that this wasn’t the case at all!
Today, we usually have a hard time handling the plain truth when we’ve neglected the wisdom of the faith all the while expecting the benefits of that Faith to be ours by “right.” When we foolishly believe we are “due” God’s mercy without the humble life of staying awake to our need for His grace, we are sorely surprised! If we are going to enjoy the joys of being Orthodox, we have to be Orthodox on Purpose!