In the Synagogue

Jesus’ inflammatory language

But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; But unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian (Luke 4:25-27).

Jesus was never out to make enemies, but he also wasn’t afraid to challenge people and even offend them. One thing that he did on occasion was draw attention to those outside of the Israelite nation who happened to be models of acceptable faith. For example, he extolled the faith of Roman soldiers (Matthew 8:10), a Phoenician woman (Matthew 15:28), and even told a parable where a Samaritan was the hero and an Israelite priest and Levite were the villains (Luke 10:30-37)! Talk about rubbing people the wrong way!

Another occasion of what might be called inflammatory language from Christ comes after his reading of Isaiah in the synagogue (apparently a combination of Isaiah 61:1 and the LXX Isaiah 58:6). He applied the prophecy to himself, causing the keen listeners to infer that he was proclaiming himself the Anointed One of God, the Messiah (Luke 4:21).

Remember, these were people who watched him grow up, knew his family, and knew him personally. They were amazed, perplexed and aggravated at the same time (Luke 4:22).

The Messianic claim had them reeling, but Jesus wasn’t finished. His next words (Luke 4:23) reflect that some in the crowd had heard of his miracles in the town of Capernaum. The prevailing attitude seemed to be that if he did such things there, why not in Nazareth, too?

In response, Jesus exposed their faulty attitude, “No prophet is accepted in his own country” (Luke 4:24). Then he further offended them by citing two historic people and events: the Sidonian widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian (Luke 4:25-27).

In order to understand the profound insult, we must key in on the phrase, “in Israel” in both instances (Luke 4:25,27):

  • There were many widows in Israel,
  • but none of them were saved except this widow of Sidon.
  • There were many lepers in Israel,
  • but God only healed Naaman, the Syrian.

Do you see the contrast? God actually rejected all the widows and all the lepers in Israel in these instances because God considered them less worthy of his blessings than these non-Israelites.

In the present situation, Jesus compared those in the synagogue to those rejected Israelites of old. Since they now rejected him as the Christ, and their prejudice blinded them to the truth, they became unworthy of whatever blessings he might have conferred upon them – including the miracles for which they clamored.

And what of us today? If we reject Christ, or question the motives of God, why should we think ourselves worthy of his blessings?

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A graduate of West Virginia School of Preaching (2004), Rick has been in full-time ministry since then serving the church in Prestonsburg, KY (2004-2014), and Massillon, OH (2014-present). He enjoys spending time with his wife, Samantha, their six children, and enjoys writing, playing and writing music, a good cup of coffee and a hot wood stove. He hates shoveling snow and plans to buy a snow blower soon.

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