(A Lection Reflection on Luke 4:21-30)
If you want to say something happened in an unusually short amount of time, using “in sixty seconds” seems both specific and pretty short. This post’s title references, of course, the well-known Nicolas Cage film Gone in Sixty Seconds, about a car thief’s ability to steal a car in a minute or less.
Today’s scripture is not about stealing cars, but in its own way it’s about as violent as that film. Jesus returns to his childhood home of Nazareth, having begun his ministry elsewhere and thus being proceeded by a little reputation. He reads the scripture from Isaiah that speaks of being anointed to preach good news to the poor, freedom to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind. He then tells his hometown neighbors, many of whom surely remember him as a boy, that “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And the townspeople, realizing that Jesus has just said he is the Messiah, are so enraged by his arrogance and possible blasphemy that they drag him out to the cliff outside of town to throw him over the edge and kill him.
Wait — that’s not right? You mean, that comment didn’t get to them? Well, no, not exactly — they “all spoke well of him.” Apparently, either they missed his meaning, or they all knew all along that he was the Messiah, but decided to play along when he set up his carpentry shop. (For those of you scoring at home, let’s be clear: it went right over their heads.)
So, if having their neighbors’ kid call himself the Savior of the World didn’t turn them from adoring fans to murderous mob, what did? Well, check this out:
“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.’ Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But 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; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”
You see it? The townspeople were just fine with Jesus talking about God, and about the move of God, and about the fact that one of the most well-known prophecies in Isaiah was coming to pass right in front of them. No, they were fine with all that, because it meant they were on the inside. THEY were the ones chosen to be at the Big Unveiling, it was THEIR town that the Messiah called home. They were the Kewl Kids, privy to the Inside Information, the Secret Way. The people of Nazareth were the first Gnostics, and they were cool with that!
What took them from Grace to Rage in 60 Seconds was when Jesus told them God was moving — but not there. Good news, freedom, eyesight, all these were coming — but not in Nazareth. The good news of Isaiah was being fulfilled, and was going to be fulfilled, but they weren’t going to be part of it.
Why weren’t they? I don’t know. Commentators have proposed many reasons and interpretations, ranging from lack of faith to election to familiarity to whim of God. I don’t have a good answer, so I’m not going to try to say.
What I am going to say is this: when confronted with the fact that God is moving elsewhere but not here, how would YOU act? I can tell you how I would act — if I thought the person speaking had credibility (if I just agreed this was the Messiah, I think they have credibility), then I’d be doing some serious soul-searching, taking a long hard look at myself and my town to figure out what was up with that. In short, I’d be reflecting and repenting.
But Nazareth? Not too much into reflection, apparently. In fact, when confronted with the news that God was moving on down the road, they decide to kill the messenger. The same messenger they had been praising just one minute earlier.
See, that’s what I find fascinating about this passage. Calling something or someone “godly” or “the word of the Lord” or “sent from God” doesn’t really mean anything by itself. As long as Jesus was telling the good news, the easy words, everything was Jake. But as soon as he confronted them, they were ready to kill the Messiah themselves. Wow.
Let’s not be like that. Let’s not call something “of God” when we agree with it, and be ready to kill it when it gets hard or painful. Let’s not be the easy head-nodders of Nazareth, half listening as God himself speaks, but snapping to attention and anger when that same God tells us the truth about ourselves. Let us figure out how to hear the Good News and the Good Word with the same openness, the same application to our own lives. In the name of the One who fulfilled the scripture that day in Nazareth, amen.