Rejection in Nazareth

Luke 4: 16-30
1 Cor 2:1-5 / Ps 119:97-102

…no prophet is accepted in his hometown.
(Luke 4:24)

Everytime we give in to sin
We cast Christ out from His “native place”.
Lord, let Your Spirit live within,
And be with us in all our days.

Jesus went to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom. And He stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on Him, and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of Him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from His lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked. Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’ I tell you the truth,” He continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove Him out of the town, and took Him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. But He walked right through the crowd and went on His way. (Luke 4: 16-30)

Reflection

The Sabbath day had started well enough. Jesus was given the special privilege of reading a passage from the prophet Isaiah, the words of which were full of hope, (good news… freedom… vision… the Lord’s favor). His audience was pleased by His words and spoke well of Him, and were amazed at the gracious words that came from His lips. They even showed their pride by saying, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” So why did our Lord intentionally antagonize everyone in His village by recalling the events of the past when Yahweh God rejected Israel in favor of the Gentiles? Elijah and Elisha were two of the greatest prophets of Israel, but they were persecuted by their own people, and so they brought salvation and healing to a Sidonian widow and a Syrian general, most hated by the Jews! Naturally, upon hearing this, the whole synagogue went into a frenzy, and violently executed Jesus’ self-fulfilling prophecy.

Jesus had two important reasons for putting aside His popularity and the praise of men, and risking His own safety instead by His scathing words. First, He was simply telling the truth to the faces of His town mates. The truth may hurt, but they needed to know about their flaws and failures. They only wanted Him to perform wonders in their midst, but did not care about His Good News and His messiahship. They were too proud about their tradition, to the exclusion of the Gentiles and Samaritans, to whom salvation would eventually be given, and of which they would be deprived, unless they believed in Jesus and repented. Secondly, Jesus willingly chose the path of rejection by the Jews because this was the way to the cross in Calvary, and the realization of His life’s mission. As the greatest of all the prophets, He was in fact fulfilling God’s plan of salvation for all men, which was ironically precipitated by the rejection of His people, and the betrayal of one of His own apostles.

Jesus is telling us in today’s Gospel passage of Luke (which was addressed more to the Gentiles than to the Jews), that if we have to be prophets of God’s Word (and we, as Christians should be), we must be prepared to face rejection by friends and relatives. The modern world refuses to abide by the values of the Gospel, and people are uncomfortable when they are reminded about identifying with the poor, the sick, and the downtrodden. But this is the message of the Gospel, and Jesus said, “The poor will always be with you” (Mt. 26:11). He also said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who came before you” (Mt. 5:11-12). Let us be bold, therefore, in proclaiming the Gospel to others, and condemning what is unjust and immoral, even if it is not the most popular or favorable thing to do.

Lord God, we would rather be unpopular in the eyes of the world as long as we know that the things we say and do are most pleasing to You. Amen.

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