I hate to be rejected. Don't you?
No one likes rejection. Yet, we experience rejection and its pain from an early age. Children feel hurt when, on the playground or in other settings, they are not allowed to play a game with the rest of the kids. Childhood rejection may even be self-inflicted, when we resent the fact that we are afraid to climb up to the top of the Jungle Gym.
I remember growing up and anticipating my being picked for a sports team at school. It could be a baseball game or a volleyball game. I waited with the other students as the teacher chose two leaders to pick their teams. The process was devastating as students waited. And waited. And waited some more, to be picked. The process lasted less than five minutes, but it seemed an eternity.
It felt awful to be one of the last ones picked for a team. It hurt as all the strong athletic kids got picked first and the ones with no perceptible athletic ability were left to the end. If you were the last, or among the last, you felt the rejection as each person, other than you, was picked.
Nobody wants to feel rejected. None of us wants to receive a rejection letter to our college application, audition or job application. It is painful and could be heartbreaking.
Jesus knew rejection through his life. The people of Nazareth, his own hometown, rejected him (Luke 4:26-30). Still others wondered about him because of that hometown. "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked (John 1:46). People rejected much of his teaching. Many questioned the origin of his teachings and do not accept him as he was born poor, the son of Joseph the carpenter. In Matthew 21:42, Jesus talks about the stone the builders rejected. The story is a revelation about Jesus, himself.
The Gospels say that Jesus travelled a lot and suggest he entered villages where he found no place to rest. Luke's Gospel tells of one time Jesus was not welcomed in a Samaritan village (Luke 9:51-53). Jesus' comment on the experience could imply this happened frequently (Luke 9:58).
Remember the last few hours of Jesus' life before his crucifixion. Many people and groups rejected Jesus, including those closest to him. Judas betrayed Jesus and identified him in the Garden of Gethsemane for those who came to arrest him. The disciples all ran away in fear when Jesus was arrested. Peter, who said that he would never desert Jesus, ended up denying Jesus three times (John 18:15-27). The high priest, the chief priests, the elders and scribes rejected Jesus and wanted him put to death.
The religious leaders took Jesus to Pilate for a trial. Pilate did not want any trouble and since it was the governor's custom to release one prisoner during Passover, he asked the crowd, "Which do you want me to release, Barabbas or Jesus?" (Matthew 27:17). The crowds chose Barabbas and rejected Jesus, leaving him to be crucified.
At the final moment of his life, Jesus felt the ultimate rejection. On the cross at the ninth hour Jesus cries out "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:45). Jesus knows and understands rejection. Jesus exemplified rejection.
Tremendous pain comes with rejection. The experience can feel like one has been thrown into a spiraling emotional and spiritual black hole and lead one to wonder if there is hope of return to a normal life.
Rejection fills life. We may experience rejection from a lover or a family member. We may experience rejection from a community or society at large because of our skin color, gender, age, sexual orientation, or other aspect of our personhood. All forms of rejection cause pain and add obstructions on our path of life.
Yet, as we remember Jesus, we know that his experience of rejection and crucifixion on that wooden cross did not end the story. God had the final word: a word of life, and love. The week we now call Holy had a wondrous and miraculous outcome. In the burden and pain, there is hope. In our misery and suffering, there is resurrection and new life.
As the sun seems to set during our moments of rejection, darkness and desolation, we can live with the hope that the sun will rise. Even though people and the world around us may reject us, God greets all of us with open arms, embraces us and welcomes us in love.