Perhaps you’ve heard of Randy Pausch, the teacher diagnosed with pancreatic cancer who recently delivered his “final lecture” to his students. If not, you can click this link to view his appearance on Oprah. During his speech, he mentions how family can really humble you and how when he was working on his doctorate and he was complaining about how hard the work was, his mother reminded him that when his dad was his age, he was in Germany fighting the Nazis. When he finally did get his doctorate, his mother would introduce him and explain that “he is a doctor, but not the kind that helps people.” Indeed, when I go home, it does not take for someone to say just the right thing at just the right time which just hits me square between the eyes and sets me back in place.
Well, in Luke 4.14ff, Jesus goes home. He goes back to the Nazareth, a place that seems to have been a despised place (see John 1.46). It was just a dusty little town, more like a hamlet really. But this is where the Lord was from – he grew up here and not doubt learned many things from the community that raised him. Notice, in verse 15, “everyone praised him.” The people loved him. Jesus has just come out of the wilderness where he was triumphant over the prince of darkness and before that he has the declaration from heaven that he is God’s Son. If it were me, I’d be feeling pretty good right now – he’s popular and people like him and his message. That is until he arrives home.
As was his custom (Jesus went to “church services” regularly), he goes to synagogue on Sabbath. And that morning, he has something to say. It would seem the town had heard of the great things Jesus was doing everywhere and perhaps they beeseeched him to read. So they hand him the scroll. Now when they met on the Sabbath, the officiator did not say, “Ok, this morning, let’s open our Old Testaments to…” When they picked up the scroll, the continued reading where they left off last Sabbath. And so by divine providence, the scroll is passed to Jesus opened to Isaiah. He stands to read but when he has read he sits to teach, the proper place for a rabbi in those days. Everyone is waiting for a word from their “golden boy.” What is Jesus going to say? We know he teaches wonderful things elsewhere; what will he say here?
“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” And the crowd goes wild. “Wow!! Isn’t he something? What a gracious word! Isn’t that Joseph’s son?” But they don’t really understand what Jesus is saying. Jesus is revealing what he is really about. The scripture he reads says he has a specific mission: preach good news to the poor, set the captive free, give sight to the blind, release the oppressed, proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. Jesus is explaining that he has come to help the helpless. He has come to fight for the little guy. He came for the disenfranchised and the emarginated. That’s what is fulfilled. This is who Jesus came to save. Newsflash, hometown: salvation is not just for you nor is it just for the Jew. Salvation is for all men.
Push the Envelope
Jesus presses the issue: “Physician, heal thyself.” The hometown has heard of what Jesus has done in the other towns and cities. No doubt they wanted the hospitals cleared by Jesus. Here they have their own personal miracle worker. Surely they expected Jesus to stay around and stay popular. After all, they made him who he is, right?
Not with Jesus. He has a different mission and mindset. If he stays home or if he stays popular, the mission cannot be accomplished. And because of his message, he will not be accepted. He uses two examples of prophets: Elijah and Elisha. And he explains that they did not go to any of Israel, though there were widows and lepers in Israel, but they went to Gentiles. Therefore, Nazareth, this prophet (Jesus) is also going to help the Gentiles by providing salvation for them.
As the text says, the hometown crowd is furious. They cannot believe their ears. Their golden boy isn’t here to do their bidding and heed their beck and call. Let’s get him out of here. Let’s kill him. If Jesus is not going to do what we want him to do, we have no further use for him. They might as well be crying out “crucify him!” But this is not Jesus’ fight nor his time. And he slips from them no problem.
I believe we see what kind of attitude we are not to have. First, we must never view salvation as being for only a select few or for “our church” only. Salvation is for all men. Be it the CEO of the company or the homeless man on the corner, Jesus died “once for all.” Second, we learn not to kill the prophet. This is what upset Jesus so much about Jerusalem when he saw her. No doubt with tears in his eyes he said those words, “O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.” May the Lord deal with us as he sees fit if we should every kill our prophets and spiritually stone those sent to us. May we never run our prophets out of town or take them to the cliffs to throw them down.