Sermon: Frank Moritz-Jauk
Communication Luke 4, 16-30
Dear congregation, for today’s sermon I have once again used the story of Jesus in Nazareth. Once again, by this I mean that about half a year ago I have already preached on this topic and of course I don’t want to completely repeat myself. On July 8, we baptized Sebastian Radauer and the topic back then was credibility. It was about how Jesus comes to Nazareth, to his hometown, and is simply not believed. Because he’s Joseph’s son after all, so where does all this educated, powerful speech that people have heard come from?
It’s really an incredible text with several obvious breaks or questions. Today I want to mainly focus on the question: What actually happened? How could this come about? What was it that suddenly turned the surprised and astonished, then inquisitive and doubtful audience into a raging mob that dragged Jesus out of the synagogue and wanted to stone him?
I think this is an important question worth exploring. Because it can help us in our everyday lives and perhaps make some of the rejections that we as Christians experience more understandable.
So it is not about being able to say with absolute certainty what really moved the people in the synagogue in Nazareth. We wouldn’t be able to do that anyway. Because: we weren’t there. We neither heard how Jesus spoke, whether loudly, arrogantly or mysteriously. Nor do we know how his gaze was, whether it was condescending, indifferent or provocative. And none of us knows, what the people in the synagogue had already experienced that morning. Whether there was a family row, an exhausting week, or the donkey or grandpa died, or whatever.
What I’m trying to say is that we only know the words. And speech is only one of many aspects that play a role in successful communication.
And words are not straight forward either. Anyone who has ever had a conversation with a close, acquainted, beloved person knows that words and meanings can be two very different things. What I said is one thing and what I meant might be another. And what my counterpart has heard and what he or she has understood might again not be the same thing. This is because we send each spoken word on four channels simultaneously and these four messages can be heard with four different ears.
At least that’s the theory of the well-known communication researcher Friedemann Schulz von Thun. Thun has developed a Four-Sides-Model or communication square, which is based on the assumption that any communication can be interpreted in four directions – by the sender as well as by the receiver.
Each side symbolises a different layer. One of the layers is called the factual information layer. Here the speaker informs about the content of the message, the facts and the data. Then there is the self-revelation layer. It includes what the speaker reveals about him or herself in their message. The relationship layer expresses the sender’s perceived position in relation to the receiver and their opinion about them. The last layer is the so-called appeal layer. What does the sender want to achieve with their message? What impact to they want to have on the receiver? Factual information layer, self-revelation layer, relationship layer and appeal.
However, in interpersonal communication there is not only the one who speaks – then sender – but also the one who listens – the receiver. While the sender speaks with “four mouths”, the receiver hears with “four ears”. The four layers of the transmitted message, what the sender wants to express or achieve with a statement, do not always correspond to the four layers as they are interpreted by the receiver.
This is why the four layers of communication make interpersonal contacts interesting, but also tense and susceptible to disturbance. So much for Thun.
A classic example is something that happens quite regularly in road traffic. Two people, often a woman and a man sit in a car and they have stopped at a red light. The light turns green. He says: “Hey, the light has turned green.” She responds: “Are you driving, or am I?”
At a factual level, the remarks are not related. Only when we consider that there is also a relationship layer or an appeal layer, the woman’s statement becomes more understandable. For she can see for herself that the light has turned green. So what is he trying to tell her? Appeal: Go on, it’s green.” “Thanks, I’m driving today, not you.” “I only said, it’s green.” And that’s where the trouble starts.
This can be repeated with lots of different sentences and everyday situations and it’s worth considering it again and again.
Not only do we transmit messages on different channels, both consciously and unconsciously, but our counterparts also hear us on Ö1, Radio Helsinki, Antenne Steiermark or Kronehit. Everything just really sounds different. So what does this mean for our text then?
Well it means that it is very uncertain whether we have heard it in the same way or even in a similar way. What makes it even more difficult as far as our text is concerned is that it is a recorded dialogue. In other words, the truth is that it is not only about the communication between Jesus and the people in the synagogue, but another person communicates with us: The Evangelist Luke.
Luke also has his story and his concerns or if you want to formulate it more neutrally: Luke also has a particular focus. Both examples that Jesus recounts benefit the so-called Pagans. The people of Israel are not considered.
This may also bring us closer to a first explanation of the sudden change of mood.
On a factual level Jesus is simple telling two examples of two well-known prophets and how they were doing. Especially with Elijah I think it’s important – if we want to stay on the factual level – that there were quite a lot of examples where Elijah was in contact for or with the people of God. It was Elijah, who asked for fire from heaven and who killed all of Baal’s priests with his own sword. The God of Israel has won.
So if we want to understand, why all the people in the synagogue were so angry after these accounts, then we have to look at the relationship layer.
People would have heard: You from the people of God, you don’t belong. Me. Jesus, I read from the book of the prophet Isaiah, but you, who have gathered here, you don’t belong.
In addition there is this simple statement: No prophet has anything to say in their hometown.
This can be heard as a historical fact, or in this way: “You are just too stupid. Don’t worry about it, others were also too stupid to recognise that. But you are just as stupid as these people around Elija or Elisha.” Something like that is of course very hurtful.
And also the self-revelation layer was probably addressed among the people: Is he telling us, with the word that has been fulfilled today, that he is the Messiah? How is that supposed to work, he is the son of Joseph. Of the carpenter. So he is blaspheming God. Our God. And to this offense we answer with the death penalty: by stoning.
Those who have listened carefully today have not heard “I”. Jesus said: “Today this scripture was fulfilled. You are witnesses.” He does not say: “Look, people, it is I who stand before you.”
With this I would like to build a bridge to today’s topic and take up the initial question again of what this could mean for our communication and for our faith. I had raised the issue that we as Christians often experience rejection.
When that happens it can have many reasons.
From the wrong time for the conversation, to different levels of knowledge or other conditions and assumptions that are not the same.
But it could also be that we are not communicating on the same channels. That is, sending and being heard.
So an example of the experience with God that we want to share with another person, can turn into a big misunderstanding. I am telling of God and how he helped me, and another person hears a statement of self-revelation: “You had an experience with God. I didn’t. So are you trying to tell me that your relationship with God is better than mine? Because you experience God, but I don’t?”
There could be issues on the appeal level as well. Same example: I am telling of God and how he helped me. The other person hears: “So should I also ask for God’s help know? Why should I? Has God helped me, when I lost my job?”
As Friedemann Schulz von Thun said: Interpersonal contacts are exciting, but they are also tense and susceptible to disturbance.
So what is needed again and again for successful communication is a basic understanding. In other words, it needs empathy. Empathy means turning toward someone. To respect my counterpart before even the first word has been spoken.
If that works, then good communication, a good conversation will usually succeed. Or a good exchange, because sometimes few words or even no words are needed.
Almost exactly two weeks ago I learned a lot about dementia. We went to the old people’s home, celebrated a church service with the residents and watched various videos about conversational situations. It is very obvious, how a good exchange can succeed without words. So there is hope! And hope, as you know, dies last.