In Luke’s record of Jesus’ life, the Lord’s visit to his hometown of Nazareth would seem to take place just after his immersion and temptation. When we compare this with John’s account it would seem that around a year had passed. During this year were the events recorded in the first few chapters of John: the wedding at Cana, the visit to Jerusalem, and the visit in Samaria.
“Now Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him.” (Luke 4:16-20 NET)
As Jesus began his teaching in Galilee he first went to his hometown. Place yourself in the synagogue that Sabbath day. A local boy has grown up and returned home after being gone for a year. He has been teaching and is growing in popularity as someone worth hearing (see Luke 4:14-15). He is the one to read and comment at the Shabbat service. They were waiting with bated breath to hear what he would say.
“Then he began to tell them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled even as you heard it being read.’” (Luke 4:21)
What did you just hear? He believes that he is the fulfilment of this scripture by the great prophet Isaiah? We know this boy! He grew up here. We used to play together when we were children. Just exactly who does he think he is? (See Luke 4:22.) Jesus’ response further inflamed them.
“No doubt you will quote to me the proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ and say, ‘What we have heard that you did in Capernaum, do here in your hometown too.’” And he added, “I tell you the truth, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s days, when the sky was shut up three and a half years and there was a great famine over all the land. Yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to a woman who was a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, yet none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” (Luke 4:23-27)
That was just too much for his fellow-Nazarene’s to take! He was even claiming to be a prophet! What a snub to say that they did not deserve to see some of the wonders they had been hearing about! And to use Gentiles as examples of true faith instead of faithful Jews – really!
This enraged the crowd to the point that they wanted rid of him – permanently. They forcibly took him to the brow of the hill overlooking the Plain of Jezreel. Nazareth wasn’t built on the edge of the cliff (called Mount Precipice today). They had to ‘manhandle’ him for 2.9 km (1.8 miles). You can see how angry they were!
What happened next was unexpected – Jesus passed through the crowd and left Nazareth. It wasn’t his time for death – that would be in another few years. But this is the last time we read of Jesus being in Nazareth.
Isn’t this a stark lesson for us? If we reject Jesus we don’t know if we will be given another opportunity to obey him. Those who knew him rejected him because he didn’t meet what they expected. Many today do this as well – they want a Messiah made in their image, doing and teaching what they want. Instead we need to listen to him and learn who he really is.
Photo from Mount Precipice by Jon Galloway, January 2018.
Readings for next week: Luke 2-6