Luke 4: 14 – 30 Jesus rejected at Nazareth

Luke 4: 14 – 30 Jesus rejected at Nazareth

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues and everyone praised him.

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and ast down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son?’ they asked.

Jesus said to them, ‘Surely you will quote this proverb to me: “Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, “Do here in your home town what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.” ‘

‘Truly I tell you,’ he continued, ‘no prophet is accepted in his home town. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed – only Naaman the Syrian.’

All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

*       *       *

In first century Israel, the synagogue was a community building used for many functions; school, meeting room, courtroom and place of prayer. It was open to all members of the community, men, women and children, and was not segregated by gender or age (although women were not allowed to expound the Torah). On the Sabbath, families would assemble there to hear the Torah read and expounded, and to pray.

The Torah would be read and explained by a man who would stand on a platform to read, and then sit down in the ‘Moses seat’. He would give his understanding of the reading, but not in the form of a sermon or homily of the sort that we have nowadays. His explanation would be much more a question and answer session. Indeed, in the rabbinic teaching method, the teacher would often begin his sermon by seating himself and waiting for a question from the assembly.

Although all men were eligible to read and preach, the person chosen to do so was scheduled in advance. It is likely that Jesus’ reading in the synagogue was planned beforehand. Likewise, the reader didn’t choose the passage to be read; there was a set schedule of readings that had to be used. Jesus probably didn’t choose the reading.

But what an appropriate reading it is!

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’

Rather surprisingly, it doesn’t seem to be an exact quotation from Isaiah. Most of it comes from Isaiah 61: 1 – 2a, but the words “to set the oppressed free” are from Isaiah 58:6. It is a strange sort of mistake to find – if, indeed, it is a mistake. All Jews were taught the scriptures by rote, and that would include St Luke. It is possible that St Luke felt that the phrase, “to set the oppressed free,” was so important to his overall message in his gospel and Acts that he was prepared to conflate it with this story of Jesus.

You can imagine the expectant silence as Jesus sat down after reading. Every eye would have been fixed on him. What would he say?

‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’

Well, that’s nice, but what does it mean? How can the scripture be fulfilled? This is just Joseph’s son, isn’t it? Hah! If he wants to convince us, he’d better show us a sign like he did in Capernaum.

The people had no faith in Jesus. They thought they knew who he was. He was just one of them, and I’m sure they said so.

In response to this lack of faith, Jesus responds with two examples, both involving foreigners who showed faith when the Israelites did not. The widow of Zarephath gave food to Elijah despite being close to starvation herself. In response to her faith, the flour and oil that she had were miraculously renewed every night for months until the end of the drought causing the famine. And Naaman was a Syrian who, when he was told by Elisha to wash himself seven times in the Jordan to be cleansed of his leprosy, initially demurred angrily. However, he then obeyed the command and was healed.

The moral was not lost on the assembly. Jesus was telling them that they needed to have faith in him, and that if they didn’t, they were no better than Gentiles! How dare this carpenter, this son of Joseph, sit in judgment on them! Who did he think he was?

Was it Jesus’ implicit claim to have authority over them that outraged them so much? Or did some of the assembly feel that Jesus had blasphemed? Their response was startlingly violent. They took him to the brow of the hill, intending to throw him off a cliff. However, it was not his time and he eluded them.

*       *       *

This is the prophecy from Isaiah that contains the line about setting the oppressed free.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58: 6 – 7)

It comes from a section where the Israelites have been condemned for hypocrisy. Isaiah 58: 3 says

“Why have we fasted,” they say, “and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves and you have not noticed?”

‘Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.’

Luke’s gospel is very much about the way that true religion should give rise to social justice.

This line that Jesus read is central to the message of St Luke’s gospel.


Heavenly Father,

Thank you that you provide for us every day. Help us to share generously with those who don’t have enough.

In Jesus name, Amen

Published by pennygadd51

I write. I've written many pieces of flash fiction, dozens of short stories and two novels, with a third in progress.

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