Jesus gets testy

3 February 2013
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
Epiphany 4C (RCL)
Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Luke 4:21-30

Today’s Gospel reading is often called “the rejection at Nazareth.” Jesus has been preaching and healing, and everyone in his home town wants to see him, and he can do nothing at Nazareth. At least that’s the way Mark and Matthew present the story. The rejection at Nazareth occurs well along in their narratives. Luke, on the other hand, moves it right up front. This is Jesus’ first sermon, and already the home-town crowd is filled with rage. Why would Luke tell his story this way?

There are several puzzling aspects of Luke’s story. First, Jesus has done nothing (at least in Luke’s account) for any report to have gone out about him. When he says that the home-town crowd will doubtless ask him to do in Nazareth what they have heard he did in Capernaum, Luke has told us nothing that he had done, either in Capernaum or anywhere else. What is Jesus referring to? Also, at the first, the crowd is amazed and delighted at the home-town boy made good. They call him the son of Joseph, as opposed to the crowd in Mark’s account, who call him the son of Mary (a deep insult). Secondly, it’s Jesus who first gets testy, not the crowd. Why?

And then Jesus goes on to relate two stories of Elijah and Elisha. In the days of King Ahab, Elijah predicted a drought, and went to Zarephath of Sidon, and a widow provided for him out of her meager food. God protected her because of her kindness to Elijah. Later, when her son was gravely ill, Elijah healed him. Only problem: she was Syrian — Syria was Israel’s archenemy (except when they formed an alliance against Judah!). Same is true of Naaman, whom Elijah healed, and he didn’t have the excuse of being a widow. Naaman was a general in the Syrian army. Naaman takes home two mule loads of the earth of Israel, so he can sacrifice to YHWH rather than to Rimmon, the Syrian god. Both the widow and Naaman are more faithful devotees of YHWH than the Israelite kings!

Luke will tell the story of Jesus raising a widow’s son (of Nain), and ten lepers, one of them a Samaritan. He instructs them to go show themselves to the priests in Jerusalem, and only the Samaritan (whom Luke calls an allogenes – Gk. “other born”) returns to praise Jesus. He couldn’t have gotten into the Temple to show himself to the priests!

Mark and Matthew show a shift in Jesus’ attitude toward Gentiles, with his ministry first directed at the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and instructions to the twelve to go nowhere among the Gentiles. Then, the Syro-Phoenician woman confronts him, and the ministry shifts to include Gentiles. In Luke, Jesus announces this mission from the beginning. And by adducing the examples he does, essentially says that the Gentiles will understand the message better than those in the synagogue at Nazareth. They want to domesticate the message — isn’t this Joseph’s son! Luke is telling us it won’t be domesticated; that others will understand it better than we do.

Think of the debate over immigration today. The message would be that these immigrants understand the “American Dream” (whatever that is) better than we do. Yikes.

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