My focus today is on a passage from Luke 4. In his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus gets up to read in the synagogue, and cites Isaiah 61 as being fulfilled. This goes over like a lead balloon as his once friends and neighbors “filled with rage…drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill… so that they might hurl him off the cliff.” (Luk 4:29 NRSV)
Jesus remarks that “no prophet is accepted in his own country” (KJV) or “no prophet is welcome in his home town” (NASB). The parallels in the other gospels read slightly differently- “A prophet is not without honor except in his home town, and in his own household.” (Mat 13:57 NASB), “A prophet is not without honor except in his home town, and in his own household.” (Mat 13:57 NASB)
Why should this be so, even, apparently, for Jesus? He was not a mysterious figure to them. They knew his family, his parents, and he himself. I remember as a teenager with growing consciousness of the Church, a video that played at the time Gordon B. Hinckley became President of the Church. With his disarming humor, I instinctively liked him, and as I learned more about him, I added a large measure of respect. Note, then, the reaction of his daughter to his call as an apostle.
“I was aware of the human weaknesses my parents displayed, and so Dad’s call came as a little crisis of faith for me. I thought, ‘How could the Lord call somebody like my dad who’s so average and sometimes lacking?’ At the dinner table that first afternoon while we were getting over the shock of what had happened, I said, using an expression I had heard Dad use in referring to missionaries, ‘Well, I guess the Lord is just going to have to work with what he’s got.’”- Sheri Dew, Go Forward With Faith, 198.
(I thought I remembered actually seeing her comments spoken in this video, shown around General Conference in the 90s. This is part 1.)
Now, I grant that, unlike Jesus, President Hinckley was neither sinless nor perfect. But what does it mean for Jesus to have been both of those things? I’ve heard people suggest (usually without much thought), that it means Jesus was The Best At Everything, that he never made any mistakes; If he played basketball, he would have never missed a shot, and his cabinets would have been the best cabinets around, from the very first day he ever touched a lathe or ball. Human mistakes made from learning and growing are not necessarily sinful, though. The idea that Jesus’ perfection entailed that he was the Best At Everything from Day 1, I think, denies both his humanity and the scriptures which talk about him learning and growing.
Jesus was not Superman. Many today, including some devout Christians, see him as a kind of Christian version of the movie character, able to do whatever he wanted, to ‘zap’ reality into any shape he liked. In the movies, Superman looks like an ordinary human being, but really he isn’t. Underneath the disguise he is all-powerful, a kind of computer-age super-magician. That’s not the picture of Jesus we get in the New Testament.- NT Wright, Luke for Everyone
“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.” (Luk 4:25-27 NRS)
Elijah was sent to help a widow—but not a Jewish one. Elisha healed one solitary leper—and the leper was the commander of the enemy army. That’s what did it. That’s what drove them to fury. Israel’s God was rescuing the wrong people. The earlier part of Jesus’ address must have been hammering home the same point. His hearers were, after all, waiting for God to liberate Israel from pagan enemies. In several Jewish texts of the time, we find a longing that God would condemn the wicked nations, would pour out wrath and destruction on them. Instead, Jesus is pointing out that when the great prophets were active, it wasn’t Israel who benefited, but only the pagans. That’s like someone in Britain or France during the Second World War speaking of God’s healing and restoration for Adolf Hitler. It’s not what people wanted to hear. -NT Wright, Luke for Everyone
Jesus escapes the wrath of his hometown, and moves on elsewhere.
Missionaries and others have a perennial interest in dusting of feet, mentioned in these chapters.
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. (Mat 10:14-15 NRSV)
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