A council lorry pulled to a stop on a quiet street. A workman armed with pick and shovel climbed out and set to work. Laboriously he dug a large hole between the curb and the footpath. Then a second man exited the truck, filled in the hole, and tamped down the earth. And that was their pattern all the way down the street, the one carefully digging holes to just the right depth, the other filling them in and tamping them down to just the right height.
“What in the world are you doing?” asked a woman who had been watching them.
“We’re part of an urban beautification project,” was their reply.
“Beautification!” sniffed the woman. “I fail to see what’s so beautiful about a row of filled-in holes.”
“Well, you see,” said the worker, “the man who plants the trees is out with COVID this week.”
God is very big and wants our lives to be big and full too. That’s why we are made “in God’s own image and likeness.” But breaking out into the bigness of life is no easy task. So many things stand in the way: so many dumb ideas that we cling to for dear life, so many fears that we cherish as if they were best friends, so many crazy patterns of acting that make no more sense than digging holes and filling them up again.
God knows all this about us and becoming one of us not only tells us but shows us how to break free of whatever is trapping us into tiny, cramped little lives. We want that so much. We want to be free and to enjoy a big, full life. But so often, just when we seem at the very edge of that breakthrough, our fears intervene and we pull back.
That is what we see happening in this week’s gospel. The villagers’ first reaction to hearing Jesus is delight. But then fear takes over, shuts down their delight, and chokes their momentary hope for a better, bigger life. Their fear of change is so great, in fact, that it rouses up a mighty, self-defensive anger within them. And those villagers drive Jesus – and all his hopes for them – out of town and to the very edge of a cliff. The price of a bigger life was just too much for them.
The price of a big, full, whole life in the pattern of Jesus is always high and always the same: laying aside old fears and old habits, knocking down old walls and unlocking old rooms, stretching, reaching out, and becoming new on the inside. Faith calls us to realize the presence of God in unexpected places, to recognize God in faces we are unaccustomed to seeing, to enable the goodness of God to come to the fore in the work of reconciliation and justice taken on by all people of good will.
That’s a lot for a mere human to do. But the good news is that we won’t be doing it alone. The Lord Jesus, who has invited us to a bigger life, has shown us the path to it, and will walk with us all the way to the end of the road.