Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Jesus's Rejection in Nazareth

Luke isn't the only one to share this story in his gospel.  Matthew and Mark tell it too, but he does provide us with a few details the other gospels leave out. For example, only Luke tells the story of how the people of Nazareth literally ran Jesus out of town.  In fact, Luke goes so far as to say that they wanted to hurl him off a cliff, and that makes me wonder.  What did Jesus say, exactly, that infuriated his home town so much?  After all, when I visited the congregation I grew up in about six years ago, no one tried to kill me.

I think the answer lies in what Jesus told the Nazareans regarding the prophet Elijah.  Of all the stories Jesus could have told about Elijah, he only chose two: the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the leper.  Now, what do those two stories have in common?  Well, other than Elijah, both stories are about God sending his prophet to non-Jews.  Zarephath was between Tyre and Sidon in Pheonicia and Namaan was a commander in the Aramite army.  Jesus points out that there were a number of widows and lepers in Isreal at the time, but God only responded to the non-Israelites, ad that's why I think the Isrealites in Jesus's home town tried to kill him.

It's hard to appreciate the atmosphere of Messanic expectation that existed among the common towns and villages of Judea and Galilee.  If the number of children named Yeshua (Jeshua or Jesus) is any indicator, just about everyone was longing for the salvation and deliverance of God's people, defined as the Jews.   And what does Jesus have to say to that?  Well, it seems that he told his home town that God's salvation might not be just for the Jews.  Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but Jesus's response is along the lines of, "You won't accept me as the Messiah?  Fine.  Know that God might not accept you.  In fact, when his Kingdom comes, he might just fill it with Gentiles."  To use a horribly inappropriate phrase I picked up in Kentucky, that seems to have gone over "like a turd in a punch bowl."  If statements like that are how Jesus started his ministry, is it any wonder why so many of his own people hated him?

This also fits with the whole theme of Luke's gospel.  All throughout Luke, we're going to find Jesus inviting people to meals that proper Jews wouldn't be seen dead with.  In Luke, Jesus keeps inviting tax collectors, prostitutes, and outcasts to go with him as he establishes the Kingdom of God.  Jesus's statements early on in Nazareth fall right in line with how his whole ministry will unfold.  Through Jesus, God is bringing all people to his table, especially the ones who shouldn't be there at all.  The way Luke tells the story of Jesus being rejected in his home town simply makes that all the more clear.

Stopping point: Luke 5

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