The Gospel for January 31st, 2016: “The Rejection at Nazareth”
Luke 4: 21-30
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, “Isn’t this 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.
Line 21, which is the first of this passage, is the ending to last week’s gospel where Jesus reveals to the attendants at the synagogue in his home town that He is the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy, that they are in the presence of God Incarnate. This detail is important in understanding the rest of the passage which describes the reaction of the people who witness this momentous revelation from Jesus. After their initial amazement, their next reaction is doubt. How could this man of they have known all His life be the Messiah? They check to make sure they have his identity right by asking, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” Surely, they think, God could not be present in the son of a local carpenter.
To this Jesus responds that, “no prophet is accepted in his own native place” (24). Furthermore he reminds them of the consequences of their lack of faith by referencing the stories of how the prophets Elisha and Elijah took God’s Word elsewhere when they were rejected by Israel (25-27). This incensed the people to lead Jesus to the top of the hill with the intent of hurling Him to His death. Since His ministry was just beginning, Jesus makes them wait to complete their rejection with His death for a later date. He passes through the crowd untouched to go elsewhere with His ministry (28-30).
I think the lesson for us today in this gospel is the risk of missing the presence of God among us in that which is familiar. In the Nazarene Jews’ misguided belief that the Messiah would match the expectations of their limited human imaginations, they could not recognize Him in their midst. They expected a mighty Davidic warrior, not a carpenter’s son. As the creator of all that exists, God is among us all the time if we can simply look for Him in the small acts of unselfish love and the beauty of His creation that surround us. If we share in His love by treating our acquaintances and neighbors with genuine kindness and compassion, we will experience joy and peace. If instead we fool ourselves into believing God and happiness are out there someplace away from us and reject His call to love that which is right in front of us, we are, like the Nazarene Jews, rejecting our God and are bound to experience the pain of separation from Him. How awful it would be for Him to pass through our midst and go away.