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(Read this series from its beginning here.)
That’s not all that Luke foreshadows in this story. He also lays the foundation for tension that emerges between Jewish and Gentile Jesus followers in the early Jesus movement. By the time Luke is written, Gentile followers of Jesus already want to distance themselves from the Jewish community in the eyes of the Roman empire, and this story illustrates that.
In this story, Luke’s Jesus uses two ancient Jewish folk stories (1 Kings 17:1-16 & 2 Kings 5:1-14) to justify including Gentiles in his community. Luke then paints the Jewish audience as becoming homicidally angry at even the notion that Gentiles should be included. I find this odd because usually when one group speaks ill of another in these stories, it is not Jewish Jesus followers speaking ill of Gentiles; it’s Gentile Jesus followers speaking ill of Jewish people. Later on in Acts, however:
After they [local Jewish leaders] had set a day to meet with him, they came to him at his lodgings in great numbers. From morning until evening he explained the matter to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets. Some were convinced by what he had said, while others refused to believe. So they disagreed with each other; and as they were leaving, Paul made one further statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah,
‘Go to this people and say,
You will indeed listen, but never understand,
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and their ears are hard of hearing,
and they have shut their eyes;
so that they might not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
and I would heal them.’
Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” (Acts 28:23-28)
Our story this week doesn’t direct our focus to “those Gentiles” or how much “they” want to exclude Jewish people. It focuses on “those Jewish people” and how deeply and violently they hate having to share a world with Gentiles. Luke/Acts was written by Gentiles, the group of believers that won the early Jesus movement, and this week’s reading paints the people sitting in the synagogue with Jesus that Sabbath day in the worst possible light. This mischaracterization of Jewish people in later versions of the Jesus story has proven to be so harmful.
Gentile Christians have committed grave harm against Jewish people throughout history because of how our Jesus story is written. As the adage goes, history is told by the conquerors. As the Jesus community became primarily Gentile, it added anti-Jewish elements to our sacred stories, subtly painting Jewish people in those stories and even Jesus himself as anti-Jewish.
We’ll discuss why it’s vitally important that we address these story elements in our final installment.
(Read Part 3)