Looking Back at Sunday’s Gospel

Gospel Reading: Luke 4:21-30

People gathering at the synagogue that Sabbath Day must have been full of anticipation. The home town boy who had gone out into the world, about whom the most outrageous stories were circulating, had finally come home. The president of Nazareth’s synagogue probably wished he could drum up this much excitement every week. It was probably noisy, too, as people whispered and pointed to the family and to Jesus. But eventually, they quieted down and the worship began.

During the preliminaries to the reading of Scripture, people were undoubtedly well-behaved and respectful. As Jesus took his place in front and the scroll was unrolled with great reverence, there may have been a little more whispering. He read. He spoke. He said,

“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Many people in the crowd may have been so taken aback by this statement that they heard nothing else. In the gospel record, no other words were saved. Only these.

When it was all over, the crowd departed. Even though the NRSV translates the crowd’s reaction by saying first that “all spoke well of him,” it also records that they asked, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” As Pastor Huber was able to explain with more substance from the Greek, there was a rising murmur.

We know this guy. He lived here for thirty years, and we didn’t see anything exceptional. Now we hear all these rumors about sick people getting well, lame people walking, blind people seeing, but he isn’t doing anything like that for us. What about our sick and lame and blind? He comes back from his medicine show, but we don’t see any of it. When is he going to do a few miracles for us? Who does he think he is, anyway. The fulfillment of Scripture? He just looks like the same carpenter’s apprentice he always was. Where does he get off playing the holy man?

Luke records that Jesus responded by saying that a prophet is without honor in his home town. That was not a nice thing to say. It almost sounds like a zing we might think was unworthy of Jesus. He didn’t help his case when he further pointed out that God practices inequality. Miracle disparity. Miracles do not roll off a production line to be distributed equally to all. In fact, to illustrate the point, Jesus reminded them of two times when God skipped the chosen nation of Israel altogether and did his miracles for Gentiles.

This bit of wisdom enraged the already sullen crowd. The local upstart not only refused to give them a good show. He also demonstrated that he was bigoted against his own home town. Why, next thing you knew he might suggest they hang around with Samaritans.

The people had had enough. Luke says they were filled with rage. The very idea. There were ways to deal with arrogant, manic, vagabond preachers. The crowd pushed and shoved till they reached the edge of a precipice overlooking the town. They intended to throw Jesus over, but he escaped. How did he do that?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his small book on Psalms points out that the book of psalms was Jesus’ prayer book. With that in mind, it isn’t a big stretch to imagine Jesus praying Psalm 71, the psalm we read today, as he slipped through the crowd and out of their clutches.

Peter and John, and the other disciples who had been called already, were with Jesus that day. Over and over through the gospels we hear that even though Jesus told them important things, they really did not understand or remember those lessons till after he had ascended to heaven. Peter apparently forgot this lesson even longer than that. If he had remembered how Jesus said that God loved Gentiles and gave some of his miracles to them even long ago in the Old Testament, Peter would not have been so startled when God gave the Holy Spirit to new Gentile believers in Cornelius’ house.

The day Jesus spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth, the people of his home town probably thought he was going to do something special for them as the select of the select for his campaign team. They thought he would give his most special miracles and his most special appointments to the local guys. They thought they were the ones who had made him, and they thought he should ‘give back’ to the ones responsible for his success. Instead, Jesus demonstrated forcibly that his work was bigger than anything they could even imagine, and his calling did not develop out of his connections in Nazareth.

We can learn something important from this story: don’t try to box the Christ up in our limited expectations. When he asks something of me or you or anyone, we don’t need to worry that we can’t imagine it will work; Christ is not limited by our vision. When we face challenges because of our faithfulness to Christ, we don’t need to worry that we won’t be able to weather the storm; Christ is not limited by our perceptions of our abilities. When it appears to us that the church is being destroyed and disintegrated by satanic powers that seem to triumph before we even know they are there, we don’t need to worry that God’s plan for the triumph of his church is being derailed; Christ is not limited by our lack of understanding.

Jesus in Nazareth is a great metaphor for our daily lives. One minute Jesus was on top of the world. Next minute he was dirt. But the way Jesus slipped away and ultimately accomplished all that he came to earth to accomplish teaches us that we can trust him and we must trust him. We must not try to hang on and survive; we must hang on to Christ, and he will take care of everything else.

I read a blog post this week written by a woman who travels around the world for Voice of the Martyrs. She takes Bibles and books and personal items to people in danger for their faith, and most of all she delivers encouragement and prayers. In the places she visits, it is often dangerous simply to be a Christian, and the danger is increased by helping another Christian or by simply being in the company of a local Christian. She says that her friends all tell her they will pray for her safe return, but she asks them not to do that. She asks that they pray she will do what Christ has sent her to do, that she will accomplish Christ’s purpose for her. That long-ago day in Nazareth, Christ’s purpose in coming to earth could have been derailed if Christ had relied on his human strength or persuasiveness to save the day. We know he didn’t do that. There is no evidence that he even tried to defend himself. Just as he stood silent during his final trial, he did not defend himself in Nazareth, either. He trusted himself to God and God’s sovereignty. For God’s purposes he was rescued from the crowd. The woman who travels for VOM says that she knows God has a purpose for every minute of her life. She says that if she lives, she serves Christ on earth, and if she dies, she serves Christ in heaven. Wherever she goes she serves Christ.

Jesus showed us in Nazareth that we can and we must trust ourselves to God’s purposes at all times. The prayer of Psalm 71 is a good way for us to pray: “You have been my strength; my praise shall be always of you.”