The Gospel heard yesterday, Sunday, the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, followed immediately from last week’s Gospel, of Jesus’ reading from Isaiah and winning approval from all.
That latter point is repeated this week in the reading’s opening words.
And it needs to be for what follows next is so surprising and so shocking.
Jesus began to speak in the synagogue: ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’ And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips They said, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’
But he replied, ‘No doubt you will quote me the saying, “Physician, heal yourself” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside.”’ And he went on, ‘I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.
‘There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land, but Elijah was not sent to any one of these: he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town. And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.’
When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crowd and walked away.
The reversal is astonishing. One minute Nazareth is united in admiration, and the next all join in conspiracy to murder. It is a reversal that prefigures the turning of the crowd in Jerusalem in the last week of the public ministry.
It is a reversal that at least at first sight seems irrational, and beyond our accounting for it. There are catalysts – Jesus challenging a presumed complacency and self-satisfaction in his fellow townsfolk; their perhaps implied slur on his parentage and his (foster-)father; the implication Jesus is thought to be getting above himself… But we have to read that back into the narrative. Luke does not give us enough information to understand what is happening, as it happens. As we read the story, visciousness seems to burst out of almost nowhere in this little community of Nazareth.
What Luke does seem to do is set before us a tale that anticipates the ‘shape’ of the events of Holy Week, accclaim, rejection, a plan to kill (‘successful’ in Holy Week), and ending with Jesus free to simply pass between them, free. Right from the beginning of his account of the public ministry of Jesus, Luke wants us to be aware of the storm clouds, of human resistance to the kingdom.
Why? Because one reason for his Gospel is that it is a work for our present conversion.
Like Nazareth we might be comfortable with our election by God, but not with the idea there is more for God, and us to do if we are to live the Kingdom life.
And surely one reason for our finding this gospel unsettling is that the seeming irrationality of the violence reminds of our own oft-times lack of control over sin and vice in our own lives.
- What are your hidden faults and vices, maybe barely contained beneath the surface?
- What draws you to Jesus?
- What might (what does) trigger anger and rejection of Jesus in you ?
The Ascension, Cathedral of St Isaac, St Petersburg. (c) 2015, Allen Morris