Sometimes there can be the impression that Jesus was a populist and so He was popular all the time or, at least, most of the time. Yes, great crowds (in the thousands) came to just see, hear and meet Jesus but there were also key (and crucial) moments when Jesus experienced hostile rejection from a majority: of His own hometown, His own followers and of His own country and people.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke tell of Jesus experiencing rejection by His own hometown of Nazareth. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark put it just as Jesus is attracting large numbers of people and, despite this, upon returning to His hometown, His own people question His authority and credibility. The Gospel of Luke adds that the people of Nazareth even try to throw Jesus off a cliff just outside their town which is several times higher than King’s Park.
A key reason why Jesus was rejected was because the people of Nazareth had Jesus among them and didn’t think anything special or extraordinary about Him. So when Jesus steps up and even challenges them, they immediately turn on Him and even violently. It’s always easy to take Jesus for granted or become blasé or indifferent towards Him. However, for those who do want to follow Jesus, it should not be surprising that at times Jesus will be challenging, provocative and critical even for our times.
The Gospel of John tells that, when Jesus began teaching thousands of His followers about Himself being the Bread of Life, many who were following Jesus decided to left Him and stopped following Him. At this, Jesus asks the Twelve Apostles if they also want to leave but Peter, on behalf of the Twelve, tells Jesus that they can’t go to anyone else because He has the message of eternal life and that they believe and know that Jesus is the Holy One of God.
These words of Peter reveal the only reason why anyone should follow Jesus: because one believes that Jesus is God the Son and that He has the message of eternal life. For Jesus, it was more important that He preached the Gospel – the message of eternal life – than gaining as many followers as possible and so the basis for following Jesus is not how popular, mainstream or “on point” He is at any given moment but if we do believe He is the Son of God.
The ultimate moment when Jesus was rejected by public opinion was on Good Friday morning. The leaders of the people had managed to influence a whole crowd in Jerusalem to demand that Jesus be put to death. Pontius Pilate, in a vain attempt to save Jesus, even put up a public poll between Jesus and Barrabas (who was a violent criminal) but the people still voted against Jesus overwhelmingly in a landslide and so Jesus was taken away to be crucified and die later that day.
The Gospel of Matthew begins Jesus’ preaching ministry with what’s called The Beatitudes – eight/nine statements on how true happiness is found in life and also key characteristics of those who follow Jesus and Jesus will give these the fullest expression on the Cross: poor in spirit, hungering and thirsting for what is right and, ultimately, persecuted. It should not be any surprise, then, that following Jesus can mean moments of persecution but, as Jesus assures those who follow Him, it is in these moments that true happiness is found, that one is truly blessed and that Jesus guarantees a reward, at least in heaven.
Jesus only ever sought to do the will of the Father and so was no stranger to public rejection. Those who wish to follow Jesus, likewise, should expect moments when they will stick out of the crowd. However, to all who want to follow Him, Jesus welcomes them in His Mission of Love that is ultimately expressed in His Sacrifice on the Cross; a Love that has already won and wants to live in and through our lives (even in the midst of our own setbacks) and include us in that ultimate victory over evil, sin and death and into everlasting life, love and grace.
written by Fr Brennan Sia, CYM Chaplain