4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)
When a hometown kid makes it big, he or she becomes a local hero. Former neighbors, teachers, and distant cousins share their stories, each staking their claim to the roots of the returning celebrity’s success, each hoping for a little special attention from the hero. It’s all very exciting. But then, unless that famous hometown kid gives props to the satisfaction of the townspeople, either by attending fundraisers and making free appearances, for example, the neighborhood love train comes to a screeching halt. Soon, miffed former babysitters and soccer coaches and friends of friends grumble and complain that their local hero thinks he or she is too good for them.
In some ways, the story of Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth is like the story of the hometown kid. Except Luke positions the story at the start of Jesus’ ministry, before he hit it big, so to speak, when word of him had just begun to spread throughout the region. [LK 4:4]. Now, even if you didn’t already know how the story of Jesus turns out, you could get a general idea right here. The narrative of Jesus’ interaction with the people in his hometown foreshadows his earthly mission; it summarizes his calling and ministry, hints at his passion, and invites readers to deepen their commitment to him.
Having just emerged from 40 days of temptation in the desert, a Spirit-filled, fired-up Jesus returned to Galilee where he began to teach in the synagogues.
So impressive was the quality of Jesus’ preaching that he was praised by all. [LK 4:14]. Naturally the residents of his hometown would have been eager for Jesus to teach in their synagogue, too, and, the people weren’t disappointed; Luke’s gospel says the townspeople “spoke highly of him and were amazed by his gracious words.” [LK 4:22]. Moreover, they were eager to claim him as one of their own.
Recall that in Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ rejection was the result of the townsfolks’ familiarity with his humble roots, which prevented their belief. [MK 6:1-6]. Luke’s gospel differs on this point: Jesus’ self-identification as the anointed one was not the cause of his rejection. In fact, this news was exciting precisely because Jesus was the son of Joseph. In other words, Jesus was one of them.
Jesus was aware that his townsfolk would have expectations of him; they claimed him as one of their own, they expected him to serve them first. He called them out on it,“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.’” [LK 4:23].
But who could blame them? Jesus was their local celebrity. He belonged to them, and here he was saying he was the anointed one of whom Isaiah’s prophecy spoke. This was huge. Imagine how, upon hearing his words, their hearts swelled with joy and pride. But just as quickly, joy and pride were replaced with fury, because Jesus’ deeper meaning was that the Jewish people were not the sole beneficiaries of Isaiah’s prophecy. Furthermore, Jesus was going elsewhere to fulfill it.
How would you have felt? After all, the Jewish people had longed for a Messiah, who would, among other things, inaugurate a time of unparalleled universal peace and liberate Israel. Yet, the passage from Isaiah that Jesus read in the synagogue made no distinction between Jews and non-Jews. So, perhaps as an invitation to open their hearts, Jesus recalled two stories. First, during the three-and-a-half-year famine the Prophet Elijah was sent to one non-Jewish widow in the land of Sidon, not to the widows of Israel, and second, at a later time when so many in Israel were afflicted with leprosy, the Prophet Elisha healed only Naaman, the Syrian.
Unfortunately, Jesus’ old neighbors weren’t having any of it and tried to push him off a cliff.
We can compare, to some extent, the experience of Jesus with that of the contemporary hometown hero. But Jesus was more than some talented local kid who could put his puny town on the map. Yes, Jesus was Joseph’s son, as members of the crowd correctly stated, but readers of Luke’s gospel have the benefit of Jesus’ seventy-seven generation genealogy which goes back in time from “Joseph, son of the son of Heli,” to “son of Adam, the son of God.” [LK 3:23-38].
Suddenly we see. Jesus’ hometown encompasses the whole of the world from the beginning of time.
We can also compare, somewhat more accurately, the crowd’s rejection of the extraordinary scope of salvation that Jesus offered, with the manner in which some Christians ignore the moral imperative to extend Christian hospitality, mercy, forgiveness, and love to all of the world’s people, including those who have been separated from the church, and those whose beliefs and lifestyles differ from their own.
The sad truth is that Jesus gets rejected every day. And as mentioned above, some of the people who reject him are Christians. Christians who exclude others and make excuses for their racial prejudices, Christians who interpret Jesus’ life and teachings for their social, political and economic advantage, and Christians who remorselessly exhibit innumerable un-Christ-like behaviors on a daily basis, yet continue to call themselves Christian.
As Disciples, we have to do better. Although the angry crowd tried to hurl Jesus off a cliff, he simply “passed through the midst of them and went away.” [LK 4:30]. How closely will we follow him?