A first-person retelling of Luke 4:16-30.
Imagine, you were there that day, in Nazareth, in the synagogue. You’re a farmer, have been working the fields all week, and finally, it’s your day off. You don’t work on the Sabbath, of course, this a holy day.
You go to be among God’s people.
You go to hear scripture being read.
You go to hear scripture interpreted.
You go frequently, religiously.
And you go, most of all, for a glimmer of hope. You seek a hope that will brighten your days in the here and now. Your crops this year have been decent, but boy it’d be nice to have better yields. You decide to take those prayers of bounty with you to the Synagogue that day.
Even better, this particular Saturday is pretty special. A friend mentioned that Jesus is coming to the synagogue to read and interpret scripture. You remember Jesus! He’s from Nazareth too. You watched the kid grow up, Mary and Joseph and Jesus and all his siblings lived right down the road. You’re aware of his humble beginnings, of being born in a stable. You’ve heard about how he got left behind at the temple as a pre-teen. Jesus struck you as a rebellious teen-to-be back then. He was definitely a non-conformist. You know those stories, and so many others about Jesus, because you and he hail from the same town.
And really, how could you not know them? Nazareth is pretty small, only 400 or so people live here. For reference that’s about the size of the Story County cities of Collins, Kelley, or Sheldahl. It’s downright impossible not to know a ton about everyone in town. Especially when we’re talking someone as unique as Jesus.
As you enter the synagogue you find your favorite spot on the floor and get comfortable. With a town this size the space isn’t overly large.
But you know this space, the synagogue, and you know it well. You went to school on this floor, all the kids did. You went to court here when that bad deal with a neighbor went down. And when it came time to give back some of your harvest to those without, you brought it right here.
This space is the center of action for Nazareth. It holds so very many memories.
Your mind snaps back to the present as you see heads turn. Jesus walks in, He’s here! My how tall he’s gotten! He always was a good looking lad, it’s nice to see he’s grown up so well.
Initially Jesus sits down next to an old friend and the two begin to catch up. He fits right in, you realize, he is one of us.
The buzz in the air is downright electrifying.
When it comes time for the reading of scripture Jesus stands, requests a scroll, and is handed one. Which scroll will he read? You find yourself filled with wonder, filled with excitement. Jesus slowly unrolls the scroll to his selected passage.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he begins,
”because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.”
Hey, you recognize that passage! It’s from Isaiah. And it happens to be a personal favorite.
Jesus continues, saying,
“He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
to deliver sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Jesus then rolls up the scroll, hands it to the attendant, and goes back to where he’d been sitting.
You find yourself smiling; what a great selection. He picked a really good one. It’s a message of hope, for the marginalized, that things, very soon will get better. And he delivered it like a pro.
And you’re not alone in your awe, all eyes are on Jesus. He has everyone’s rapt attention. You could have heard a needle drop in that room.
What a way to make a mark in your hometown.
You then lean in, excitedly, to hear how he’ll interpret this fine passage.
Interpretation and Prophesy
Today, by hearing this, Jesus continues, scripture has been fulfilled.
What bold words! This must be where things get interesting!
You’re feeling better and better about that bumper crop you’ve been praying for.
The room fills with chatter, people talking over themselves, excited about all he had said.
Someone in the back of the room wondered aloud is this not Joseph’s son?
You find yourself mildly wondering the same thing. For all the excitement we’re still talking about the kid who grew up down the street, right? That he’s done some exciting stuff in other towns doesn’t make him that special you find yourself thinking.
Jesus responds by saying he knows we’re going to ask about that miracle he performed in Capernaum. Jesus cast a demon out there, how awesome that must have been. There aren’t even that many Jews there; mostly it’s people that worship other gods. Or no god at all. And if he can do His thing among those people certainly he can do the same back home among his own.
Show us a sign, Jesus! The hometown crowd awaits.
But Jesus does none of that. Instead he tells the congregation no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. Your sense of joy, about this local boy made good, begins to shift. Now he thinks he’s a prophet? Perhaps Jesus has gotten a bit too big for his britches. You begin to wonder if the trust you’ve placed in this guy has been misdirected.
Jesus then retells two stories. This is where things get really dicey.
First he recounts a drought in Israel that lasted over three years. But God didn’t have the prophet Elijah end the drought for the Israelites, at least not then. Instead Elijah was called to help but one, a widow, and a non-believer. The widow’s son was healed. And her family was fed. It was then the widow proclaimed she believed in the one true God.
You find yourself really bugged by this story Jesus shares. Why didn’t God’s prophet help God’s people? Instead he chose to heal an outsider! That ain’t right, you find yourself thinking. That ain’t right!
Jesus then shares one more story with the congregation. Quietly you hope he says something lighter. Something more positive. Something that will benefit his hometown. Something more about that bumper crop you’ve been praying for.
But that didn’t end up happening. Jesus goes on to recall the story of Naaman. A leper, Naaman was healed by washing seven times in the Jordan to be clean. There were a bunch of other lepers in Israel, and none of them were healed. In fact, Jesus said, Naaman was a Syrian, and an army commander for another country. The Jewish prophet Elisha healed a non-Jew, and an army man no less!
What is up with the stories Jesus is telling?
At this point you’re downright ticked.
Others in the congregation are too. In fact they’re angry; most gathered there are enraged. You watched as a mob of people surrounded Jesus, and take him to the top of the hill in town.
It sounded like they wanted to throw him off the cliff.
Somehow Jesus escaped. Perhaps that was the miracle.
All you know is the people of Nazareth are still really upset with Jesus. Deep down you hope God is big enough to help with your crops and take care of all of those other people Jesus talks about too.
And that’s went down, that fateful day.
What began as a happy homecoming for Jesus ended as an angry outcasting.
This is the first example in Luke of Christ showing just how expansive this new kingdom of God is to be.
It isn’t for one people. Or one nation. It doesn’t even benefit people from just one religion. The kingdom Jesus ushers in is for all.
It’s an expansion from the…
Specific to the general,
Partial to the whole,
Local to the worldwide.
It’s for the atheist widow and her sick son.
It’s for the soldier from another country with a humiliating disease.
It’s for the Palestinian losing both land and livelihood because of religious oppression.
It’s for the migrant caravan families in Mexico escaping violence in search of safety. In search of hope.
And it’s for the groups of society we so often marginalize. Groups based on race, gender, sexual orientation and mental health status, just to name a few.
The Nazarenes of old challenge us on how best to respond to God’s new, broader, expansive narrative. A narrative that is for all people of all kinds in all places. A narrative that is for those that often look, feel, act and believe differently from us. There are three basic responses we can take to today’s text.
We can be like the people of Nazareth, filled with wrath at the notion God blesses and is for other people so unlike ourselves.
We can choose to be indifferent, looking away from what God is up to around us.
Or we can follow God’s newly unfolding narrative, and find out, firsthand, where that new narrative leads. It’s a narrative that calls us to contribute to the renewing, redeeming work of God the world round.
Today’s Luke passage contains the first public word Jesus spoke as an adult. Today, he begins, this scripture will be fulfilled.
Today Christ brings good new to the poor.
Today He proclaims release to the captives.
Today the Son of God gives sight to the blind.
Today the Almighty lets the oppressed go free.
May you be not angry with Christ’s new, expansive narrative. May you be not indifferent to it either. Instead, may you dive right in, feet first, partnering with God to make this new narrative a reality.
And may God’s work in you, begin anew, today. Amen.