Reflection by Pastor Shawn Bawulski
The gospel reading for this week is Luke 4:21-30, and it continues the scene of Jesus teaching in the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth. As I explained in the sermon last week on Luke 4:16-21, Jesus’ mission statement involves doing the things promised by the prophet Isaiah—in short, bringing good news to the poor. After he spoke, those in the synagogue were amazed with him. But then they say, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” In other words, “hey, wait, we knew this guy when he was just a kid. What’s so special about him?” Jesus anticipates that they will demand that he do ‘his own work in his own backyard’ to prove his claims (this is the point of the proverb he cites, “Doctor, cure yourself!”). In effect they are saying, “Show your stuff here, like you did in Capernaum.”
This is not exactly a warm homecoming welcome, to say the least. And so Jesus points out that a prophet is without honour in his hometown; many of Israel’s prophets in the Old Testament were not well received by their own. Then Jesus gets specific. He singles out the period of Elijah and Elisha, a real low point of faith in the nation’s history (see 1Kings 17-18; 2 Kings 5:1-14). He says that the prophets performed no work in Israel but they did heal a couple of Gentiles (verses 25-27)! By saying this, Jesus compares that current era to Israel’s dark days during the time of Elijah and Elisha. He also suggests that the much-disliked Gentiles were actually more worthy of ministry than they were. Jesus is warning his audience that their reaction to him recalled some of the lowest years in Israel’s past.
Jesus challenges all sin, of course, but he has a way of poking at our more subtle sins. The ones in our blind spots. The ones we tend to downplay. And that’s exactly what he does here to his fellow Jews sitting in the synagogue in his home town. He is saying that they have a prophet—and so much more!—in their midst, and they have the opportunity to respond. The right response would have been to acknowledge their pride and shortcomings, apologize, repent, and turn to God. The wrong response was to get angry, run the prophet out of town, and try to kill him. They chose the latter, and Jesus slipped away from them (in more ways than one).
The challenge for us is to respond rightly when God confronts us with our own sin. It’s easy, natural in fact, to get angry and defensive. It’s hard, supernatural in fact, to humbly repent and turn to God.