Yesterday, we took a look at an event soon after the Feeding of the Five Thousand in John’s Gospel, where people are big fans of Jesus, until He appears to have an agenda that differs from theirs. At that point, they move into ‘Who does He think He is?’ territory.
They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?” – John 6:42
We’ll get back to that exchange tomorrow, but today, let’s look at Luke 4:14-30, where people use similar words to react to Jesus’ actions.
This is the famous scene where Jesus attends His hometown synagogue and is invited to give a Scripture reading. He reads some highly-charged words from Isaiah about the Messiah, and then declares that the passage has been fulfilled by His arrival. At first, his former neighbors think this is pretty awesome news.
22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.
This sounds initially like ‘local boy makes good’ pride, but Jesus isn’t fooled for a second. He sees immediately that what’s in their hearts is closer to ‘My uncle – who just won the lottery – is suddenly my very favorite uncle!’ And He has no intention of stringing them along.
23 Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”
24 “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 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. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 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.”
28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 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. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.
Three quick digressions here:
1. This is one of several scenes in the Gospel where people were ready to hurt Jesus, but He ‘walked through the crowd’ and went on His way. I wonder how He did that.
2. If you visit the site traditionally regarded as Nazareth of the New Testament, you won’t find much of a ‘brow’ or a ‘cliff’ on the hill it’s built on – and this fact causes some to question the authenticity of Luke’s story, and others to question whether the location in is actually Jesus’ hometown. Sigh. Is that really the point?
3. The picture in Luke is quite different than what Mark says about a similar (or maybe the very same) incident in Mark 6:1-6 and Matthew 13:53-58, where his former neighbors merely seem to think Jesus is pretty uppity for a kid who didn’t learn to ride a bike until he was seven (or First Century equivalent). In those accounts, there’s no mention of anyone trying to hurt Jesus, merely that their lack of faith prevented Him from doing much healing. It’s interesting when the Gospels don’t quite agree – but I don’t think it has to be problematic, or that we need to rifle through the archives of apologetics to rationalize the interGospel misalignment away. Which details contain truth we can see ourselves in, and therefore learn from? All of them. Which details are factual? Probably doesn’t matter.
The Nazarenes in Luke are so incensed by Jesus’ words – probably because the truth hurts – that they want to harm, or maybe even kill Him. That’s a pretty extreme reaction, don’t you think? I hope there’s something else at work here that we’re not told about, because these Nazarenes seem like pretty horrible people. No wonder Nathanael said, ‘“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” in John 1:46.
But in the same way that I can see myself in the fickle bread seekers we looked at yesterday in John 6, I’m a little ashamed to admit that I can also identify with the nasty Nazarenes.
I see how God has blessed other people’s lives, and I get jealous. Sometimes, I actually get angry with God for refusing to do in my Nazareth what I’ve seen Him do in the Capernaum where my neighbors, or my co-workers, live.
But then I remember that until you’ve lived in Capernaum, you don’t know what life in Capernaum is really like. Jesus used this town as His base of operations for a while, and performed a number of miracles there, but the Capernaumites (?) clearly failed to be galvanized by them:
23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.” – Matthew 11:23-24
The grass may have been greener in Capernaum, but only on the surface. The roots were obviously tangled and unhealthy. The Capernaumites may have had more proof than the Nazarenes that Jesus was the Son of God, but they still lived as though he were merely the son of Joseph. Probably more out of passive apathy than active avoidance, but the results were the same – and He cursed them for it.
But let’s get back to Nazareth.
I can’t help but wonder how Jesus would have treated the Nazarenes if they’d reacted to His synagogue rebuke with repentance, rather than rage. Would Jesus have stayed there, and performed miracles like He did in other towns?
Maybe, but maybe not.
I wonder if the miracle that Nazareth needed was to have the faith to embrace Jesus, the son of Joseph, because (and only because) He’s the Son of God – not because of what they stood to gain from the choice.
And I count myself a Nazarene today.
Peace be wi–
Wait, wait, wait, Baldy! You’ve got a great family and perfect health and a good job and a very comfortable home and a great church and clear callings to at least two very fulfilling and empowering ministries. God has blessed you innumerably and immeasurably, and you’re still holding part of yourself back from Jesus?!? You’re not Nazareth. You’re Capernaum!
You’re right, Reader(s).
I am abundantly blessed. Ridiculously blessed. And sometimes, somehow, I forget and take my blessings for granted. I take for granted the 999 miracles I experience every day, and focus on the one, small thing I don’t have that others do, and I feel gypped. And I think this makes my heart too hard to hear what Jesus is inviting me into, day by day, in my life with Him.
So I’m a grass-is-greener (with envy) Nazarene in one sense, and I’m also a fail-to-respond Capernaumite in another.
Lord, I don’t want to be either. Help me to breathe gratitude for all that You’ve given me with every breath. But help me to know that the avalanche of miracles in my circumstances are all just icing on the cake; gravy on the potatoes. All I really need from You is You, and nothing can keep You from me except me. Help me to live into that reality, to change where You want me to change, to grow where You want me to grow, and to serve how You want me to serve. Amen.
If you see any of yourself in any of the paragraphs above, I invite you to pray this prayer with me – as often as you think you need to.
Peace be with you.