In today’s Gospel we continue where we left off last week with Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth. Jesus has just read from Isaiah 61 and proclaimed the Kingdom of God to the assembled worshippers. By stating, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ (Lk 4:21), Jesus is claiming to be the fulfilment of Scripture, and the Messianic prophecies contained in Isaiah. This is what we believe as Christians. Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, Israel’s True King and Liberator, the Fulfilment of all Scripture. 

At first, Jesus’ words are well received:

‘And all spoke well of him and marvelled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth.’ (Lk 4:22)

But sadly, this positive atmosphere does not last for long. The congregation asks:

‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’ (Lk 4:22)

The people there have known Jesus for most of His earthly life, and their recognition may even be a source of local pride: here’s one of our own. They know Him as the son of a carpenter, who is now claiming to be the Messiah. It would, naturally, come as something of a shock to them. So they attempt to put Jesus claims into context. At one level they know Him, they know who He is, but at a deeper, more fundamental level they do not. The people in the synagogue misunderstand who and what Jesus is, and their familiarity breeds contempt.

Jesus does not react well to the lack of belief demonstrated by the Nazarenes, and says to them:

“Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your home town as well.” (Lk 4:23)

Jesus recognises that the people of His hometown want to see miracles, but He is not willing to perform any. They are expecting or even demanding God’s action, taking the divine for granted. So Jesus says to them:

“Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his home town” (Lk 4:24)

Jesus is explaining why He is being rejected by the people who, one might assume, would know Him best. The prophetic vocation is a difficult and a lonely one, and it involves a lot of rejection, as we see in the Old Testament reading from the prophet Jeremiah.

In this passage Jeremiah is addressed by God, a God who knows Jeremiah intimately, and has appointed himas  ‘a prophet to the nations’ (Jer 1:5). His prophetic calling will cause Jeremiah to meet with rejection:

“And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.” (Jer 1:19)

Prophets are opposed because they tell people uncomfortable truths. Doing what God wants, rather than what people want, will often make you unpopular. This is a truth of the human condition, as true in Jeremiah’s day as in our own. We should not be surprised that people are upset when God makes demands of them. 

Jesus then gives the worshippers in the synagogue two examples from the ministry of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. These are feeding the widow of Zarephath, and the curing of Naaman the Syrian from leprosy. In both instances we see prophets going outside the boundaries of Israel, and healing and restoring non-Jews, known as gentiles. The examples Jesus cites do not get a good reaction:

‘When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff.’ (Lk 4:28-29)

At one level, this looks like a huge overreaction. The people have gone very quickly from being extremely happy that the Messiah is amongst them, and one of their own, to trying to kill Him. They have been faced with the uncomfortable truth that the proclamation of the Good News of the Kingdom is for all people, and not just the Jews, and they do not like it. The fact that we are Christians and reading this here today is testament to the fact that the Good News has spread from Galilee to the whole world. This process began with the Apostle to the Gentiles, St Paul, the author of the First Letter to the Corinthians, today’s second reading. 

St Paul shows the Corinthian Christians a ‘more excellent way’ (1Cor 12:31), the way of Love. Love is the heart of the Gospel and our Faith: God loves us, and we are called to love God and each other. This is not the love of romantic movies, but the gentle, generous, sacrificial love shown to us by Jesus, who dies on the Cross for love of us, to heal us, and restore us. We celebrate the Cross, and I preach it, because it is the demonstration of God’s love for humanity. In the Gospel, Jesus passes through the crowd (Lk 4:30) because it is not His time to die. That will come later, in Jerusalem, at Passover, something we will commemorate in a few months, in April.

Luke presents the message of the Gospel being met with initial celebration followed by angry rejection. The question is, how do we want to respond to it? What difference does it make to our lives? Are we willing to risk having God transform our lives? If we accept that Jesus is Lord, that He is the Messiah, the Son of God. That He took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, to offer humanity new life and eternal life in Him. Are we willing to give Him our lives, all that we are, and to grow in love, together as a community of faith, a church of believers

May we not be like the inhabitants of Nazareth, rejecting Jesus, deaf to His message. May we listen to Him, and be nourished by Him, in Word and Sacrament.May He prepare us for Heaven where we will see Him face to face, and sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen. 

James Tissot – Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue (Brooklyn Museum)

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