A reflection on Luke 4:21-30 for the Fourth Sunday After Epiphany, January 30, 2022.
Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.”’ And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
Luke 4:21-30 (NRSVA)
All is going well for Jesus. He has come home, been invited to speak in his childhood synagogue, and now all are speaking ‘well of him’. People ware amazed by his words and left baffled by the fact that he was one of them.
Luke recounts this story as though Jesus really should have quit while he was ahead. There is initially no indication that anyone is upset or offended (although some interpreters dispute this). They are simply thrilled to have some connection – however tenuous – with the one set to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy.
But Jesus opens his mouth again. There is no need to. He is not responding to anyone’s question or inquiry. Indeed, he may not even be responding to an underlying dissatisfaction with what he has said and done.
But Jesus is dissatisfied. So much so that he pushes the whole mood in a completely different direction: ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” It is hard to know whether Jesus believes they want a miracle, or whether he is simply using this as a way to move the conversation on.
Whatever the reality – Jesus has initiated a mood change. Despite the apparent celebration at Jesus’ presence and message, he sees a need to highlight his hometown’s lack of acceptance towards him.
Jesus is not happy with this exuberant response to his reading.
But why? Does Jesus have an inbuilt suspicion towards their acceptance? Does he sense that they are avoiding his real message? Have they deliberately not heard the call to a Gentile mission filled with grace implied in his cutting short the Isaiah passage?
Whatever the case, Jesus goes out of his way to highlight their shortsightedness. Even in the days of Elijah and Elisha God was at work beyond the borders of Israel. Sometimes, it would seem from the way Jesus re-tells these accounts, God has even worked there while not doing the same among God’s own people: He offers two obscure scriptural examples: ‘Zeraphath in Sidon’ and ‘Naaman the Syrian’!
And that is enough to turn their celebration to a riot and their praise into murderous intention. Jesus has spoken plainly and they have understood well.
Maybe. It would seem this crowd has not, as yet, fully understood. Perhaps they comprehend enough to object – but not enough to follow.
And then the crowd’s attempt to kill their favourite son is mysteriously thwarted: ‘…he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.’ (4:30).
It reads so strangely. Perhaps Nazareth got it’s miracle after all.
When are you prone to ‘celebrate’ the words of Jesus? When are you prone to ‘riot’ against them?
Have you ever experienced the challenge of trying to speak into the lives of those closest to you? Do you found this easier or harder that speaking to those you do not know as well?