This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news
The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’23He 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.” ’24And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town.25But 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;26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.27There were also many lepers* in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.29They 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.30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
Luke always makes his points with a light hand, telling a good story. In this case he uses traditonal memories of Jesus’ relationship with his home village, to say some very definite things about Jesus’ ministry.
1. Jesus is presented as one expected by the prophetic tradition of Israel: God’s spirit rests upon him and he is “anointed” (Hebrew “Mashiach”) by God as the Messiah will be. Luke doesn’t claim at this point that he is Messiah but the suggestion is there.
2. Jesus has the special mission of bringing good news (that is, glad tidings of victory) to the poor. God is intervening in the world through Jesus to bring into being a new kingdom of justice where there will be no rich and poor. (The book of The Acts thinks the Church is the dawning of this kingdom!)
3. The nature of the poor is summarised by reference to captives, blind people, and the oppressed. The whole passage is from Isaiah 61, which dates from the period of the return from exile in Babylon. There is always a tendency to spiritualise the ministry of Jesus, which Luke resists by emphasising the bodily and political needs of the poor. Jesus was not Che Guevara but neither was he Barrak Obama: he took sides against the rich in God’s name. This was and is, offensive.
4. The “year of the Lord’s favour” is almost certainly the year of Jubilee commanded in Leviticus 25, the “Sabbath of Years” when slaves will be set free, debts cancelled, land restored: a year of God’s justice. Most scholars say there is no evidence it was ever observed! One can see why. It is possible that the concept of a Jubilee Year influenced Jesus’ whole ministry.
4. Jesus causes further offense by excusing his inability to do miracles in Nazareth by instancing how Elijah and Elisha were sent by God not to Jews but to Gentiles. Luke is of course writing from his knowledge of the spread of Christian faith amongst Gentiles. The suggestion that “God’s poor” might include gentiles and by-pass Israel was bound to outrage his listeners.
5. Right from the start, Luke shows that Jesus’ way is the way of the cross: he offends the powerful and the pious.
All this raises questions as to how the church of Jesus should continue his ministry in very different circumstances. Well, as Jesus said, however different our society, the poor will always be with us. Churches should bring them good news -not just Jesus saves but Jesus saves from poverty-at the risk of offending the wealthy.