First, the Gospel Reading: Luke 4:16-30
Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had grown up,
and went according to his custom
into the synagogue on the .
He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
Rolling up the scroll,
he handed it back to the attendant and sat down,
and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
He said to them,
“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
And all spoke highly of him
and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
They also asked, “Is this not the son of Joseph?”
He said to them, “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.’”
And he said,
“Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.
Indeed, I tell you,
there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah
when the sky was closed for three and a half years
and a severe famine spread over the entire land.
It was to none of these that Elijah was sent,
but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.
Again, there were many lepers in Israel
during the time of Elisha the prophet;
yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
When the people in the synagogue heard this,
they were all filled with fury.
They rose up, drove him out of the town,
and led him to the brow of the hill
on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong.
But he passed through the midst of them and went away.------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Commentary on Lk 4:16-30
In this passage from St. Luke’s Gospel we find the Lord back in his home town of Nazareth. He reads from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1-2) and then tells those present that he has come to fulfill the oracle he proclaimed (“he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind”). These were clear references to the miraculous works he had already performed in other parts of the country. The Lord saw that they were expectation that he would perform signs there as well but the lack of faith would prevent him. Those congregated knew him form boyhood and did not believe he was the Messiah or even a prophet.
The episode in Jesus’ ministry we see depicted in St. Luke’s Gospel when Jesus goes to the place were he grew up is a foretaste of where his mission will lead him. He comes home, not to a hero’s welcome, but to anger and near tragedy. The story is analogous to a common business cliché that defines an “expert” as someone who comes from out of town and carries a brief case. The implication is that a person who is in your midst cannot be an “expert,” that level of knowledge must reside outside the local area.
The situation in Nazareth, on a human level, was understandable. The Son of Mary and Joseph returns home. Rumor of his exploits may have reached them. He had become a Rabbi, a teacher of the faith. He wandered around (consorting with all kinds of people) and was now coming back to his friends and neighbors. We can imagine some of the men (and women) of Nazareth talking to each other before he arrived. “He’d better not try to put on airs around us. We know him and his family.”
When he is invited to speak at the Synagogue he tells them that the boy they watched grow up and the young man who had learned the carpenter trade at the elbow of Joseph, was a great prophet – even quoting from Isaiah at them – like he was something special. They were sorry for Joseph and Mary but he had to be stopped so they took him out of town with the idea of killing him for his blasphemy. It was permitted, in fact it was their obligation, probably condoned and encouraged by the local Rabbi.
But there was something else at work. The words he spoke and the way he said them – this was different. Never mind that they had heard the book of Isaiah before. Others had always used future tense –looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. Jesus taught with authority, as if the Prophet had come back to life in him, making the words real and present. It stirred them inside. It frightened them. While their rational minds said “We know this young man.” In the backs of their minds the truth was screaming at them – here is something new, the likes of which have never been seen before. And they stopped what they were doing, staring at him in fear and hesitation. Seeing this reaction, Jesus pushed through them without resistance and left the area. No doubt he was saddened by the reaction but probably not surprised.
For us, this reaction of those who knew Jesus is seen as the greatest lost opportunity of all time. Yet don’t we find in ourselves that same incredulous rejection of Christ’s presence in those around us? Don’t we often fail to see the Lord present in those we encounter; especially members of our own families?
The lesson we receive today from St. Luke’s Gospel is that we must be constantly vigilant, looking for the Lord not just in prayer, not just in the sacraments, but In the people we meet. We must listen for the Word of God at all times and in all peoples because we do not know the hour or the day of his coming.
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible
[ii] The picture is “Jews in the Synagogue“ by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, c. 1640s
[iii] The readings are taken from the New American Bible with the exception of the Psalm and its response which were developed by the International Committee for English in Liturgy (ICEL). This re-publication is not authorized by USCCB and is for private use only.