September 5, 2017
Gospel Lk 4:16-30
Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had grown up,
and went according to his custom
into the synagogue on the sabbath day.
He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
Rolling up the scroll,
he handed it back to the attendant and sat down,
and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
He said to them,
"Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."
And all spoke highly of him
and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
They also asked, "Is this not the son of Joseph?"
He said to them, "Surely you will quote me this proverb,
'Physician, cure yourself,' and say, 'Do here in your native place
the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.'"
And he said,
"Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.
Indeed, I tell you,
there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah
when the sky was closed for three and a half years
and a severe famine spread over the entire land.
It was to none of these that Elijah was sent,
but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.
Again, there were many lepers in Israel
during the time of Elisha the prophet;
yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian."
When the people in the synagogue heard this,
they were all filled with fury.
They rose up, drove him out of the town,
and led him to the brow of the hill
on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong.
But he passed through the midst of them and went away.
Dear fellow pilgrims,
In our gospel reading for today, we get another point of view on Jesus' venturing back to his native place of Nazareth. This passage from the gospel of Luke provides a window into what was only alluded to briefly in the gospel of Matthew, when Jesus taught in the synagogue. In the Matthew version, we are told that Jesus taught, then the people were "astonished" and "took offense at him," and Jesus could not perform any miracles "because of their lack of faith." In this extended Lucan version, we see the scene play out. We see how a people initially respond in awe to Jesus at the temple, but quickly turn against him, even to the point of throwing Him off a cliff.
This Lucan passage includes a cinematic detail of the crowd's initial wonder when Jesus read from Isaiah in the Temple: "the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him." *Pan out from a close-up of Jesus reading from the Torah to the people, wide-eyed in wonder, staring at Jesus, feeling a resonance of spirit within them, but not knowing what to do with it.* In the previous passage, we only heard about the fact of the crowd's hardness of heart, but here, we see a picture of the crowd initially reacting positively. This is an interesting psychological detail of the crowd's arc of emotions towards Jesus. And I have always found it helpful and challenging to chart what seems to be capricious changes of heart in the crowds of people encountering Jesus, because it usually reveals an area of pride in my own heart and knowledge of Jesus.
And so I ask here: What happened that turns ed people's hearts from wonder and amazement to fear, rejection, and even violence towards Jesus in this passage?
When the people are amazed at this hometown boy, the "son of Joseph," speaking in ways that insinuate that He is fulfilling prophecy ("Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing"), Jesus immediately speaks to their expectations of Him. (Because He is God.) He basically says, "I'm not going to do miracles on myself or anyone else because you refuse to believe Who I really am." Jesus explains first what He is not: He is not there to meet their expectations, He isn't there to just shock and amaze and entertain. Who is He, then? Jesus rarely provides direct insight into Who
He is. Most of the time, Jesus' identity is plain to those who truly watch and listen to Him in the gospel because the ways in which He does or does not reveal Himself are intrinsic to understanding Who He is.
He is there to fulfill the prophecy that He just proclaimed to them. The scripture was
fulfilled by their hearing it because He IS the one that will do these things Isaiah described. The prophets before Jesus spoke about Jesus' mission statement, but It is an entirely different dynamic when the Jesus is proclaiming His own mission statement. The prophecy is fulfilled by their hearing specifically Jesus preach it to them is because He is the intended subject of the message and they are the intended recipients of the message. Pass completed.
I have to admit, it did take me a while to find a satisfactory explanation as to why the crowd responded with such extremity and hatred. Because, at first, you read what Jesus tells the crowd and it is not immediately threatening. But then, you google things you don't understand and read it over and over again with peripheral bible knowledge of 20+ years of Sunday school and come to realize that these people may have been threatened because Jesus was indirectly identifying himself in the lineage of prophets (How dare he!) and He was identifying the crowd with those who got the short end of the stick during the time of these previous prophets. He was grouping them with the unfaithful, essentially, while grouping himself with those sent by God.
So ... what's the deeper human reason why the crowd became violent towards Jesus? I think the fury came from a rejection of the fact that in order to believe the passage they heard as fulfilled, they would have first have to believe in themselves as the recipients of the reading: the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed. Jesus simultaneously reveals Himself as the redeemer and the crowd as those in need of redemption. To reject your need for redemption is to reject Jesus as redeemer. The crowd goes so far as to try and kill the One whom intends to save them from death... on the irony. But how often do we try and silence, kill the promptings of from our Lord that show us a deeper understanding of the ugly, unfaithful places in need of redemption in our hearts?
Lastly, I'd like to reiterate that God desires each and every one of our participation in this redemption. Often times, when something happens and someone I know needs prayer, my instinct is to ask other people to pray. This isn't wrong, but it does reveal a bit of my own unfaithfulness when I relax after I ask people to pray. Upon reflecting, I see that this behavior comes from not believing that God wants or listens to my prayers as much as other people's. But in this belief, I become one of the crowd who is unwilling to believe in Jesus' personal call for me to believe in his identity as redeemer, and part of the reason why He couldn't work miracles in my town, in me.
I pray we believe in our need for redemption as much as Jesus' desire to redeem us.