After reading this passage you might define “ordinary” as what life looked like before Jesus shows up. Or perhaps you may conclude that Jesus, as the first born of a new race and as our example was introducing to us what His new definition of “ordinary” is and what the initial response will be when we see it;
“…they were all seized with astonishment and began glorifying God; and they were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen remarkable things today.”
In the previous chapter, we see the likely origin of all the excitement. Jesus stood up in the congregation and said,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”
You have to admit, the action in this passage is more than most of us are accustomed to. Our contrasting experiences, at least for me, begs for explanation. When I read the scriptures I look for possible explanations. As I surveyed the passage, I looked for things that stood out as unique and worthy of consideration.
1) None of these awe-inspiring events took place in a synagogue.
2) At Jesus’ bidding a business owner complied and experienced a radical and unexpected return on his investment; so much so it caused him to acknowledge his own sinfulness (which Jesus seemed to ignore)
3) There were changed vocations (kind of). His followers will still be fisherman, but going forward, “men” will be their catch instead of fish.
4) We find Jesus favorably disposed to heal. He was willing. It was the favorable year (season) for this.
5) The abundant outflow of Life expressed in; a) His teaching and; b) “the miraculous” were the only Church growth strategy in play.
6) a structure (roof) was dismantled to get to Jesus.
7) He heals as easy as He forgives.
If, one day, you were to give a group of born again believers the task of going out and just start “being” the Church and none of them had the knowledge or benefit of how we do church, they would be left only with accounts such as the miracle-laden passage we are reading today as a reference point for what is “ordinary” and how to calibrate their expectations. So, I speculate; one possible explanation for the contrast between then and now is that we have not yet become, (in our current traditions, customs and paradigms), the Church that Jesus died for; rather we are more like the frog in the kettle who is being slowly and incrementally desensitized to his circumstances (having lost track of temperature a ways back somewhere). There is a built-in danger to the status quo in assuming the water temperature (our existing paradigms) are actually safe. This is one possible explanation of why so many of us live in this season so contentedly un-astonished with the unremarkable.
In this account, there were two groups converging upon Jesus; 1) the poor, downtrodden captives and; 2) the scribes and teachers who were reasoning incorrectly in their hearts. (Major problem! These were the ones who controlled the water temperature!) But; there was a Kingdom representative present. He was the first-born a of a new race of Kingdom persons whose duty it was to redefine and exemplify “normal”. It says that “the power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing. Note: In the previous verse we learn that “He Himself would often slip away to the wilderness to pray”. So, I speculate that another possible explanation for the power differential between the “first-born” and us “later born” ones is the shortage of those who “slip away” – those who continually respond to Jesus invitation “to come to Him”, who in their “coming and staying” in His presence, learn to enjoy the intimate terms between themselves and the Father that are established “in Christ” , enabling them in maintaining the focus on this “favorable season of the Lord”.
For our mental equilibrium it would be far easier to adopt the idea that this is now and that was then and all is as it should be. This is one of the paradoxes that face thinking Christians; carrying the burden of reconciling that God is sovereign; that things are on track (which I believe) and yet things are not yet as they can be (which I also believe). There is an apparent contradiction between these two propositions. If left to just pure reasoning, we would be driven toward one or the other of these options and forced to discard one of the positions (which we had previously found valid). Living with paradoxes can be troublesome. Then I see Jesus making an interesting statement;
“But Jesus, aware of their reasoning (perhaps similar to mine above), answered and said to them, “Why are you reasoning in your hearts?”
Perhaps it would not be far off to paraphrase Jesus question as, “Why are you limiting Me to Your human reasoning, allowing apparent contradictions to push you into one position or the other?”. Has it ever dawned on us how obscenely arrogant it is for us to assume that God would be confined by our definitions of “normal” or “ordinary” which we have derived through mere human reasoning?
A third possible reason I think we are deficient in “the remarkable” is that most of us have done much “reasoning in our hearts” in the context of the invalid reference points of “our own experience” which is unfortunately the benchmark most of use for “ordinary” or “normal”. Using our own contemporary experience as “normal” would be like recalibrating our thermometers – replacing 198.6 for 98.6 degrees. The outcome of the false reference point would be tragic.
This line of thinking has challenged my understanding of certain prayers I have prayed, such as; “Search me Oh God and know my heart and see if there be any hurtful way (an inferior benchmark) in me and lead me in the everlasting way (His new benchmarks). It has challenged my understanding of certain verses I have held dear; “And do not be conformed to this world (heeding false bench marks) but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (heeding His new benchmarks), that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good acceptable and perfect. It has truly jolted my understanding of how Jesus taught us to pray….that, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven“.
The roof of my understanding is being removed and it is not all that comfortable. In my adjusting I have experienced some intellectual and emotional loss of equilibrium. I have experienced some tensions between my brothers and sisters in Christ as our benchmarks are shifting. The changes however have more than justified the modest expense. It has given more room in my expectations for God to be and to do exceedingly and abundantly and beyond my expectations – a very biblical proposition.
Lord, lead us into Your life. Awaken our hunger and thirst. Give us endurance to live in the midst of Truth. Teach us to be completely content with You, our sufficiency and delight forevermore. Truly You are our all in all. Amen,