Tag Archives: Gospel of Luke

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.”

A Verse for Meditation

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  Luke 21:33

  • Jesus spoke these words to his disciples in the context of foretelling destruction yet to come. Why was it important for the disciples to know that Jesus’ words were timeless? Why is it important that the gospel writer recorded those words for you to read? 
  • When Isaiah foretold the coming of the Messiah, embedded in his prophecy were these words: The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8) These words were part of a speech by God to his people. When you compare Isaiah’s record with the record of Jesus’ words, what conclusion do you draw about who Jesus is? 
  • In the midst of God’s words of judgment on evil through Isaiah, God spoke words for his faithful people. In rich imagery that resonated with human understanding, Isaiah wrote that God promised:  As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:10-11 How does the imagery of this promise help you to understand what Isaiah is saying? How does it help you understand what Jesus is saying? What is happening in your life that makes this promise hopeful and helpful for you? 
  • Secular thinkers insist that spiritual concepts are like fairy tales, because spiritual concepts cannot be tested, measured or proved by the scientific method? If a secular thinker asked you to explain why you believe what Jesus said, how would you respond? 
  • Peter once wrote that we should always be ready to explain why we hope in Christ. (Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. 1 Peter 3:15)  Do you make any efforts to motivate secular thinkers to ask you for such an explanation?