This past week, I was invited to teach a Sunday School class that has been making their way through Luke’s gospel. I was asked to cover the “Rejection of Nazareth” narrative in Luke 4. Although I was familiar with the passage, I wanted to take extra time to observe something about the text that I hadn’t captured in prior readings.
Comparing Luke’s use of the parable to the other synoptic writers proved to be important. Luke places this scene earlier in the gospel than Matthew and Mark. Unfortunately, we cannot interview Luke to discover why he does this, but can play with some thoughts why. If you’d like to hear mine, let’s get coffee sometime.
What preaches or “spooks” in this story is the sheer irony of it all. Jesus is least welcome in his hometown. Perhaps the local crowd is a bit put out by Jesus’ great claim: that God’s wonderful season of Jubliee, that great celebration awaiting ahead in their future is at last bursting into their present. I’m sure some of the local folks were skeptical, the local village didn’t even have a bath, after all, and there seemed to be a gnawing embarrassment to be a Galilean in general and a citizen of Nazareth, in particular. Just ask Nathaniel (see John 1).
Perhaps the reason for the rejection was that Jesus didn’t seem to be interested in showing his miracle signs in his hometown as he did in neighboring villages. That’s at the heart of Jesus’ counter-critique to the crowd. A critique so strong that they were inches away of throwing Jesus of a nearby cliff.
As someone familiar with his setting, Jesus was able to diagnose a hidden cynicism within his culture. His diagnosis was powerful, it seemed to hit the nervous system.
Jesus’ reference to Isaiah should have been good news: God’s delightful mercy would be extended to all, especially the vulnerable. The folks from Nazareth, however, wanted it all for themselves.
Here is how Biblical Scholar George Caird summarized the sad encounter in Jesus’ hometown:
“The people of Nazareth felt that, if the son of Joseph had anything to offer, his own home town should have had the first benefit of it. But those who stand upon their rights and insist on preferential treatment are not likely to appreciate one who offers the chance to spend and be spent in the service of others and a gospel which leaves no room for privilege. The stories of Elijah and Elisha should, indeed, have taught them that with God charity begins wherever there is found human need to call it forth and faith to receive it, irrespective of class or race.”
Jesus spooked his home crowd, exposing the ghosts that they had hidden among them. It’s a ghost that we must wrestle with, too, as people seeking faithfulness to Jesus. If the gospel is going to be good news, it needs to be good for others, not just for us. And we have to do the extra work of examining whether or not even our best intentions are power plays or are shaped with elitism that refrains from looking across the room towards those still sitting in shadows.
Do we have the guts to face those ghosts like the early Church did, over and over again? Or, would we rather “throw the prophet” down a ditch so we don’t hear his voice?
May we call the Good News that which is both “good” and “news” to all.