A Prophet in His Hometown

prophet in his hometown.jpg

Back into Luke today.  After his baptism and testing in the wilderness, Jesus returns to Galilee.   He begins to preach throughout Galilee, especially around Capernaum.  After a few weeks, he finally returns to his hometown of Nazareth.  On the sabbath day he stands in the synagogue to read.

JesSynagog

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 

scripture fulfilled

This is very dramatic.  Luke presents it in a very dramatic way.  News about Jesus had been spreading.  News about Jesus had come to Nazareth well before his homecoming.  Rumor was that he might be the One, the Messiah, the liberating king.  This news was well received in Nazareth.   For the backwoods town of Nazareth to have its own hometown boy actually be the chosen king, how big would that be?

So the hometown boy they’ve heard so much about has finally returned.  As is his custom, he is in the synagogue.  He stands to read, is handed the scroll of Isaiah, and reads the passage about Messiah and the year of the lords favor.  It is a very familiar passage in that synagogue.

Jesus-in-Synagogue

And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth – yes, it’s what you’re thinking.  Yes, I am Messiah.  I am the one.  Jesus gives a thinly veiled acknowledgement that, yes, he is the Messiah.  This was very well received, they were all speaking well of him, there was much excitement in the air.

throw jesus from a cliff

But within an hour, before the day was over, the people of Jesus’ own hometown would try to throw him off a cliff.  These same people in the synagogue, who know Jesus and Jesus knows them, who are speaking so well of him and marveling at the gracious words he is saying, will turn on Jesus and try to throw him off a cliff.  Why the quick change??

spirit of the lord is upon me

There is a hint of why they change tone so quickly in how Jesus reads the passage from Isaiah 61.    The full passage reads “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord ‘s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God…” Isaiah 61:1-2 ESV.  Jesus stopped mid sentence.  He didn’t finish the sentence.  Jesus omits the part of about the vengeance of our god.   They didn’t get that, they missed it, but it was a hint at what going to go wrong.

vengeanceof god

What was Jesus saying in not saying something?  He’s saying – I’m going to proclaim the favor of god, but not the vengeance of god.  Notice how Isaiah 61 says it-  the day of vengeance of our God…  The implication is clear.  God is on our side.  He’s going to take vengeance, but not on us. He’s going to take vengeance on those who don’t have our god.  The dominant vision of Messiah was that of a payback messiah. Messiah was to be an agent of God’s payback, God’s smack down, God’s vengeance.

We have in American culture, mainly through cinema, the ingrained concept of hero justice.  Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Bruce Willis, Matt Damon, and the rest.  They come riding onto the scene with payback, they turn the tables, they get vengeance, set things straight, and smack down those who need smacking down.  We get excited over this, we will pay good money to see this storyline time and again.  We believe in payback…

judah macabbee

Two hundred years before earlier, about 167 BC, the Jewish people were oppressed by the Greek Syrians.  They were forcing the Jewish people to become Hellenistic, to adopt Greek culture.  They were being forced to do things like sacrifice pigs, eat pork, etc.  There was at the time a righteous priest named Mattathias from Modi’in who resisted and was executed.   As he was being executed, he cries out You shall rally around you all who observe the law, and avenge the wrong done to your people.  1 Maccabees 2:67

His son Judah was there, heard the cry of his father for vengeance, and led a revolution.   Judah brought the hammer down on those Greek Syrians, and earned the nickname “Judah the Hammer”, or as he’s known to history, Judah Maccabaeus.   “The  Hammer” brought the hammer, and in so doing became the prototype of Messiah.  This is what messiah would,  could, and should do, be another greater Judah Maccabaeus , and exact the vengeance of our god.
Judah-Maccabee

Judah Maccabaeus was a national hero.  They celebrated holidays in his name.  They felt about him much as we Americans feel about George Washington.

Fast forward again two hundred years.  The gentile Greek Syrians still lived about forty miles north of Nazareth.  The Jews still hated them.  And so these in Jesus’ hometown, how they longed for the day of the vengeance of our god against those Gentiles.

Jesus had grown up with these people, he knew the people in Nazareth. He really knew them.  He knew how they felt.  He knew they were good people, but he also knew how they hated.   He knew the nationalistic vision of their god.  He knew how they hated their enemies, and how they wanted messiah to once again bring the hammer down.

But Jesus was not just Messiah,  but also a  prophet.  He’s a prophet speaking to his own hometown, and that’s hard.

2nd temptation

And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said 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 hometown as well.'” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 

luke_4_21-30_lg

Jesus knew they wanted to see miracles, to do tricks, to show them who he was.  But he’s already overcome that  second temptation, the temptation to spectacle.

Jesus didn’t want to do tricks or perform miracles on demand in his hometown.  He does want to speak as a prophet.  But he knows it’s almost impossible to be a prophet to his hometown.  Why?   Because the prophet always challenges us versus them thinking.  So when the hometown hears one of their own challenging the idea that god is on our side, they will turn.  Watch how Jesus speaks to them…

Elijah

But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

Jesus rehashes and repeats two stories from the Old Testament, one from Elijah and one from Elisha.  These are two miracles by God from two of the most beloved prophets from the Hebrew Scriptures.  Two miracles, not for Jews but for Gentiles.  Even a miracle for the general of Syrian army, the leader of those who had brought great harm upon the Jewish people.

Naaman the Syrian

Specifically, these two Gentiles were from the same people the great national hero Judah Maccabaeus had brought the hammer down upon, the Greek Syrians.   They are waiting for Jesus to do the same.  But in reading his job description this day in the synagogue, Jesus leaves out the vengeance

In their lust for revenge Jesus refuses to cooperate.  Jesus is revealing that God is not vengeful.  We think God is vengeful against people we want to be vengeful against.  But God doesn’t want to take the hammer to or take vengeance upon our enemies, he wants to bless them, he wants to heal them, he wants to show them favor…

gods-wrath

This is like telling crusaders, God is on the side of Muslims too.  Or telling 1950’s Americans that God on side of those Russians too.  Or telling Israeli’s that God on side of Palestinians, too.  Or telling 2018 Americans that God is in the side of all those immigrants, refugees, maybe even on the side of ISIS…

This is very radical, even dangerous.  How dangerous?  All are filled with wrath

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. But passing through their midst, he went away.

After this episode, Jesus speaks in parables for the rest of his ministry.  Until, of course, he speaks openly again in the last week of his ministry and gets himself killed.

The easiest way to produce unity and sense of belonging among people is to share a common enemy, a common hatred.  To revile a common enemy and believe god hates them because we hate them.  The easiest way to unite a people is to share a common vengeance.

Why was Jesus attacked by his hometown?  Because he broke with solidarity of “us versus them”.  Their solidarity was that we are the people who hate those people up north.  We celebrate  holidays of the man who brought the hammer down.   We can’t wait for God to bring the hammer down again.  They believed in a just God, a God who would make all things right.   They believed that part of making things right had to include bringing the hammer down on those Gentiles up north.  They believed in a payback Messiah.  They believed in the vengeance of their God.

And any Messiah not interested in their bringing their vengeance was no Messiah at all.  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. But passing through their midst, he went away.

“And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said 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 hometown as well.'” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 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. But passing through their midst, he went away.”

Luke 4:16-30 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.4.16-30.esv

John Lewis

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