21Then [Jesus] began to say to [all in the synagogue in Nazareth,] “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”
23He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ ” 24And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25But the truth is, 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; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
This is part two of the story we heard last week. Jesus went to his hometown of Nazareth and went to the synagogue and read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Luke quotes Jesus as reading 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And then, he sits back down and announces to the congregation, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” That’s where the story continues today. And it escalates quickly.
The congregation, who know his family, who have heard all the rumors and seem to be actively spreading them too, can’t quite take such language from a guy who’s diapers they changed 30 years ago. Jesus already knows what they are thinking, and he’s already heard the rumors and knows what these people are expecting from him. They don’t want to hear about God’s agenda for the poor and oppressed – they want miracles. Jesus definitely pushes their buttons with his stories of prophets who do great things elsewhere for outsiders and foreigners. But why?
Why?! Why shouldn’t Jesus do miracles for us? We are his people. We know all his stories. We have his picture up on our fridge. We’ve followed his whole career. And he wants to tell us some random passage from Isaiah about the poor and imprisoned – as opposed to miraculously just fixing what’s broken here! If Jesus really loved us – wouldn’t he just fix his hometown!? Wouldn’t he stay with us, and keep us full of miracles? Make this the best synagogue and most successful worshipping body this side of the Jordan!
But this isn’t Jesus’ first rodeo – he’s already been tempted by the devil in the wilderness and managed to stay true to God’s claim and call for him. Resisting his own wants and selfish subconscious desires that evil’s presence tends to bring to the surface. And now it’s God’s gathered people turn to attempt to domesticate and control the Messiah – tempting him with their wants and wishes. And when Jesus refuses to concede to their expectations and their desires, the mood changes to rage.
All in the synagogue were filled with rage. Can you imagine? The devil didn’t get nearly as fired up when Jesus clapped back at him with scripture. It says the devil left him till an opportune time. But the congregation was still seated in the synagogue – so their rage, their passionate fiery anger motivated them to get up. And they didn’t just yell at him to leave. They left the synagogue with him. Their rage motivated them to drive him out of town. Their rage gets Jesus right up to the edge of a cliff – and it seems like their intentions are now to not just get him out of their synagogue and out of their town but kill him. And in their rage-filled state – Jesus is able to just pass right through the crowd and go on his way.
Jesus is on the move, and they were so consumed by their own emotions and righteous anger that they missed the very guy that they thought they had in their control. How does that happen? Well, easily. We take our eyes off Jesus and focus on our own desires. On what we want Jesus to do for us. On our anger when that doesn’t happen. When we focus on our own mission and righteous anger, driven by our own energy rather than by the Holy Spirit.
If I had a nickel for every time I got really frustrated and upset about something in the church that did not go my way. Like, God this was not my plan, this is not going well, why are you letting this happen, I had something in mind for how this was going to work and it’s failing, and I’m frustrated. And God usually lets me stew like that for a while, and then something happens, and I’m like wow – that really worked out! And God’s like, “yeah, I know, I had a different plan.” (Rolls his eyes at me…)
Are we paying attention to Jesus’ words and movements – or are we focusing on our own expectations, desires for our community, and anger when that doesn’t play out the way we expected?
Jesus never goes back to Nazareth. He heads to Capernaum and is received with joy and his mission grows, and the crowds can’t take their eyes off him, they follow him everywhere, even when he’s actively trying to hide and rest, they find him. Contrasted with the crowd who had Jesus in their midst and lost him. The crowds don’t know exactly who he is, but they know he feeds them and heals them. They know their deep need, and they know Jesus provides for that.
It’s so tempting to identify with Jesus in this story. We can all think of a time when our truth telling was unwelcome. When we were unfairly rejected, when those we thought were neighbors and friends spoke well of us one moment and betrayed us the next. But I am immediately wary of any preacher who comes to the pulpit comparing themselves to Jesus or identifying with Jesus. We are either the hometown or the random crowds who know their deep need. We are either those who would use Jesus for their own purposes and plan, or we are those who follow Jesus just hoping for the scraps. Just needing to be near him, just seeking his presence.
The good news for us is that unlike Jesus’ hometown, God’s presence remains. Jesus’ resurrected presence, and the power of God in the Holy Spirit have come to the Church, have been given to the church. Jesus promises to be present with us at his table and promises that when we serve those who are hungry, naked, sick, or in prison, that he’s there too. We come to the table, leaving our agenda behind, seeking the one who promises abundant life. Amen