Jesus returned to Galilee powerful in the Spirit. News that he was back spread through the countryside. He taught in their meeting places to everyone's acclaim and pleasure.
He came to Nazareth where he had been reared. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,
God's Spirit is on me;
he's chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free,
to announce, "This is God's year to act!"
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, "You've just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place."
All who were there, watching and listening, were surprised at how well he spoke. But they also said, "Isn't this Joseph's son, the one we've known since he was a youngster?"
He answered, "I suppose you're going to quote the proverb, 'Doctor, go heal yourself. Do here in your hometown what we heard you did in Capernaum.' Well, let me tell you something: No prophet is ever welcomed in his hometown. Isn't it a fact that there were many widows in Israel at the time of Elijah during that three and a half years of drought when famine devastated the land, but the only widow to whom Elijah was sent was in Sarepta in Sidon? And there were many lepers in Israel at the time of the prophet Elisha but the only one cleansed was Naaman the Syrian."
That set everyone in the meeting place seething with anger. They threw him out, banishing him from the village, then took him to a mountain cliff at the edge of the village to throw him to his doom, but he gave them the slip and was on his way.
Jesus says and does some things in the Gospels that are super subversive. He is constantly challenging folks’ assumptions. They think he’s going to zig and then he zags. Jesus tells what we need to hear and not what we want to hear. The beginning of his public ministry is no different. Here in Nazareth he sets the scene and the stage for becoming the cornerstone that many would trip over.
By very clearly moving towards the inclusion of the Gentiles, the outsiders, “those people.”
Elijah and Elisha were on the Mt Rushmore of Old Testament prophets. Though they weren’t “writing” prophets their ministries dominated the imagination and the story unlike any of the other prophets.
When Jesus shows them that he is following in the footsteps of Elijah and Elisha he is making some huge claims. First, he’s self-identifying as a prophet and ties his prophetic voice to a well known Messianic passage. Second, he’s identifying the people as those under the reign of Ahab which was a time of great apostasy from the faith. Finally, he’s saying that to find the faithful he, like Elijah and Elisha, must move beyond the bounds of the in-group.
Let me summarize: Jesus basically just called them a bunch of backsliding idol worshipers. He was challenging their very identity. It’s as if he was saying, “Yo, you think you’re faithful. You’re not. You’re the kind of people that led us into exile. But it’s OK, I’m here and I got you.”
The response? A complete and utter losing of their collective minds. They resorted to violence and were going to kill him.
Don’t we see this all the time in our day? Perhaps not with trying to throw people off an actual cliff, but certainly with words. Too often when we hear things that we don’t like or that we’re not comfortable with or that challenge us we respond with anger, rage, and frustration. There is little constructive “listening” or attempting to “hear” one another. There is little self reflection and much more by way of casting aspersions.
As I read about Jesus in the Gospels I have to remember that more times than not, if I were living back then, I would be in the group that he was chastising. This means that I have to keep coming and doing the work in me to move me from my position of self-centeredness.
The journey from self-centered to Christ-centered is one that is without end. On our way to the destination we pass through other-centered.
I hope some day to get there.
This morning I am keenly aware of my self-centered life. It’s so ugly. But, I’m thankful for grace, mercy, and an unconditionally loving God. The people in my life who love me do so in such a way that reminds me how I’m to love.
How are you doing? Where are you on the journey?