The people in Jesus’ hometown synagogue in Nazareth are incensed, rise up to drive him out of town, “and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong” (Lk 4:29). What got Jesus’ hometown crowd so twisted and contorted? Not only did he stand up earlier in the account of Luke and proclaim that he, the carpenter, was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, but it was to the widow of Zarephath that Elijah came and Naaman the Syrian that Elisha healed.
All three of these points may be a big, so what? to us, but they were a big deal to his people. Being a carpenter, more likely a simple day laborer, was not high on the social status ladder even in a poor town like Nazareth. The gospel writers even show the sensitivity of this. In the Gospel of Mark Jesus is mentioned in this scene as “the carpenter” (6:3), in Matthew, “the carpenter’s son” (13:39), and in today’s Gospel of Luke, “Joseph’s son” (4:22)? By the time we get to Luke’s account, Jesus is not even associated with the trade of carpenter, how could someone of such simple and humble means assert the mantle of Messiah?
Jesus does not go quietly in the night as the people’s wonder at his words turn to doubt and consternation. Jesus instead gives two seemingly obscure examples of people who receive God’s blessings. There were many widows and lepers in Israel, but it was to the widow of Zarephath that Elijah came and from Elisha that Naaman the Syrian received healing. The significance of these two people was that they were Gentiles, they were other, they were not part of the chosen people. Jesus is aligning himself in the prophetic tradition and the universalism of God’s salvation. Jesus is invoking a choice that will ripple throughout the remainder of his public ministry. People will either embrace his universal ministry or they will oppose it.
This same invitation that Jesus offered the people of his hometown Jesus offers us: “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21).
Jesus has been anointed to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free. As we would hear this today, Jesus has been anointed to bring support and aide to Dreamers, immigrants, refugees, the homeless, hungry, addicted, and those without access to clean water. Jesus has come to proclaim liberty to those detained by I.C.E officials, those in jails, prisons, and on death row. Jesus has come to bring healing and his presence to recover the sight of those blinded by prejudice, bigotry, paternalism, misogyny, racism, violence, arrogance, elitism, and nationalism. Jesus has also come to the unborn, the LGBTQ community, the addicted, those impoverished in our urban, rural, and reservation communities, those affected by human trafficking, domestic violence and prostitution, war, terrorism, and disease, to go and live a life of freedom from oppression.
We too sit and receive the same message of Jesus today that his hometown folk did in the synagogue of Nazareth. We can sit indifferent to this message and go about our day as if nothing of relevance has been said. We can rise up and reject Jesus outright or do our own thing in Jesus’ name which has nothing to do with Jesus in actuality. We can walk up to Jesus and ask him to heal us so that we can hear what it is that he would like us to do, we can come to realize what gifts he has given us, and seek to know in what ways we can be engaged in bringing glad tidings of his universal ministry. The choice is ours to make. Are we against Jesus or willing to receive the same Spirit that is upon him to fall afresh upon us?
Photo: Jesus in synagogue of Nazareth from Jesus of Nazareth, Franco Zeffirelli film, 1977
Link for the Mass reading for Monday, March 5, 2018: