“WHY DO WE GET MISUNDERSTOOD AND REJECTED?” (Luke 4:24-30): 25 February 2008 (Monday)
Some years ago I was involved in a local production of “Sino Ka, `Shua?” (“Who Are You, `Shua?”) starring the late RJ Leyran. The video was adapted from a one-man play in English written by Rev. William Burke It’s the story of Jesus (“Y’shua” in Aramaic) as narrated by a fictional childhood friend who reminisces about his best friend years after the crucifixion. He does so with regret because like so many others, even as he tells his story, he fails to understand the strange and radical prophet that his friend has turned into.
It’s an interesting and controversial take on the story of the Lord. The author takes liberties with the details of our Lord’s hidden life because after all, we don’t have too many details from the gospels aside from the Infancy Narratives and the Finding in the Temple. When I showed it to an adult catechesis class, one particular detail drew much anger: the portrayal of ‘Shua, the young Jesus, as a stutterer!
One man was particularly disturbed by it, so he stood up and spoke passionately, “How dare this author suggest that the Lord had a speech impediment?!”
In the course of the somewhat heated discussion, the class reached the consensus that perhaps the author was simply using the speech impediment as a metaphor to express an undeniable truth from all the gospel accounts: that the Lord was often misunderstood even by his disciples and as we know, even rejected by his people!
That’s exactly what happens in today’s gospel story. The Lord goes not just to any town, but to his own hometown, Nazareth, the place of his boyhood. His words today are spoken not to strangers, but to people he has grown up with, among them his relatives and childhood friends. And the mob that rises up against him to drive him out of the synagogue and to hurl him off the cliff—these were people whom he knows and loves.
We’ve all experienced rejection in our lives, and we know that the deepest and most painful kind of rejection comes not from strangers, but from the people closest to us. It is much easier to take rejection from people who don’t really know us and for whom we don’t really care. It is much harder—and much more painful—to have to take it from people who know us and whom we love, and whose understanding and approval means a lot to us.
Whenever we experience rejection, we are tempted to do one of two things: First, we are tempted to insist, to try again, to stay put until hopefully, the rejection is miraculously converted to love and acceptance. And so we spend our days speculating while refusing to let go of what is fast turning into an obsession.
Or: We’re tempted to plunge ourselves into self-pity and self-rejection. It’s understandable, of course. We can’t help but be touched—and wounded—by rejection, especially when it comes from people who matter to us. But often we end up inflicting more pain upon ourselves when we take our cue—unnecessarily—from the persons who reject us and we end up with a lot much worse: We end up rejecting ourselves.
So what do we do when we face rejection? What can we learn from our Lord? First of all, just like the rest of humanity, our Lord also felt a need for acceptance, and just like the rest of us, he too experienced rejection—deep and cutting rejection because even those closest to him misunderstood him and were even angered at him to the point of wanting to kill him.
But then, when rejection became clear, our Lord did not turn his desire for acceptance into an obsession. He did not insist on shoving his words down the throat of that angry crowd. Nor did he allow himself to sulk in self-pity. He refused to let that crowd push him into any cliff of depression.
Instead, we are told, he passed through them and walked away. And the reason is: Even if our Lord felt deeply wounded by that stab of rejection, he knew deep in his heart that the world was too vast, and he was destined for greater things.
Sometimes when we have to deal with being misunderstood and rejected, we can learn from our Lord. He did not allow rejection to turn him away from what he ought to do. He did not allow rejection to embitter him or to discourage him. He clung to a farther vision, one that saw beyond the misunderstanding and the rejection. It must have been this vision that sustained him and fed him as he hung on the cross surrounded by a sea of enemies—until he could complete his work.
We could learn a few things from our Lord. Like him, we too have to learn to go through our rejection and eventually, simply walk away. The world is too vast, and even if others don’t see it and fail to get it, we all of us are meant for greater things.
Here’s a Quick Question for you: “Do you recall one specific experience of being misunderstood or rejected? What made that experience particularly painful? What helped you deal with it?” Think about it, and share a thought, a feeling, or a question.
(image: from JesCom’s “Sino Ka, ‘Shua?”)