The Rejection of Jesus
After reporting Jesus’ successful struggle with the temptations offered by the devil, Luke tells us very briefly of Jesus having a successful stint in Galilee. There he was well received.
He eventually made his way to the town of Nazareth where he had grown up. There he went to the synagogue. The synagogue was a very important institution by Jesus’ time. It may have developed during the Babylonian Exile when the people were cut off from temple and sacrifice. A synagogue could be formed anywhere that ten Jewish men lived. The worship style in a synagogue was informal: Scripture readings, prayers, songs, comments, and offerings. Synagogue worship focused on the worship of God as guided by Scripture rather than the worship of God focused on animal sacrifices. Jesus participated in synagogue worship. In effect, Jesus went to church. He actively participated in worship, even reading and commenting on the Scripture reading, as any adult male was allowed to do.
In showing us this episode Luke is still trying to show us what kind of Messiah Jesus was. Jesus reads a passage that he then uses to interpret the nature of his ministry. The passage, found in Isaiah 61, originally dealt with the ministry of a prophetic figure. Jesus saw his own life and ministry as being the ultimate fulfillment of the prophecy. The scripture points to the fact that Jesus’ ministry was directed toward the liberation of the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. It was truly good news that Jesus was proclaiming. Note that Jesus told the worshippers that the scripture had been fulfilled “today” (v. 21). As Fred Craddock has noted, this “today” continues (Luke, p. 62). We are still in the “today” of the fulfillment of this scripture. The church is to be about this same ministry because we are continuing the ministry of Jesus.
It is good news, isn’t it? Who that is beaten down and beaten up and rejected and despised would not want to have their life turned around? Who among us would not want that good news to take hold in someone else’s life? Why then does the crowd turn on Jesus in such an ugly way?
One problem is their familiarity with Jesus. “Is not this Joseph’s son?” they ask. Jesus picks up on their question and responds in ways that make it clear that he does not expect to gain a hearing in Nazareth.
More troubling though not particularly surprising is the reason that his neighbors, the very people he grew up with and around, turned on him. It is found in v. 25:
There were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.
That was what set them off and filled them with rage. They were so angry that they tried to kill Jesus. They were angry because Jesus was able to use stories from their own scripture to explain that his ministry was for everybody, even Gentiles. The same stories implied that those who were closest to what God had done and who had the most exposure to what he had done could in fact miss what he was doing.
There are some things we should note from this passage. First, we should honestly and openly study our Scriptures. What convicts us should not be ignored. What runs against our personal and cultural biases should not be ignored. Indeed, therein are some of the greatest challenges to us.
Second, we should beware that we not be narrow-minded in our applications of the gospel. We are prone to be glad to apply good news to ourselves but not to others. The good news is for everybody.
Let us always pray for open eyes and for open hearts.