“Beware of those bearing gifts at the train station.” It’s an old saying that preachers from years ago would tell each other. Those who welcome you with open arms may well also be those who are looking for what they can get from you. They may shower you with love and gifts only because they have an agenda for themselves that they are hoping you will follow. People will heap accolades on others with the hope or even expectation that they will get something from the person they are admiring.
This is the dynamic we see here after Jesus teaches in the synagogue in Nazareth. The people are very impressed with Jesus and then immediately make it clear that they want their new home town hero to do what they want him to do. Jesus’ response shows them that his power and ministry is far beyond anything they can imagine. Jesus did not come only for the people in Nazareth; he came for people that many could not have imagined benefitting from his coming. And as a result, they rejected him. Let’s read Luke 4:22-20.
I. Let’s look first at the hometown dynamic in verses 22-23.
In verse 22, Luke reports that the people in Nazareth were very impressed! “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” They recognized the message of God’s grace and responded positively to it. They said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Now some interpret this in a negative way saying it in a way that belittles Jesus. I think rather they are very impressed with what Jesus said and are proud that one of their own kind has spoken so well! “Did you hear the amazing things Jesus said? I knew him when he was little.”
However, the problem is that they likely heard in Jesus’ words good news only for themselves. They wanted to be the immediate and perhaps sole beneficiaries of God’s favor as they claim Jesus as one of their own. He is indeed “one of us!” But in doing so, they fall victim to a subtle joke between Luke and the reader. For we know that Jesus is the Son of God, not the son of Joseph. Jesus comes to fulfill the purpose of God and not to be limited either by demands of the devil as in the temptation or by those of his own townspeople.
Jesus’ two part response shows that he fully understands what they are trying to do. First, in verse 23 Jesus says, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” This shows that Jesus fully understood the thoughts of his audience. This is something only a Spirit-filled prophet would be able to do. “Doctor, heal yourself!” was a well-known saying in the ancient world. It means that a doctor must not only take care of others but must also, and perhaps especially, take care of the needs of his own family and self. The people in Nazareth were wanting Jesus to use his special gifts not just in Capernaum but also and especially in his own home town.
We are so much like the people in Jesus’ home town. We want special favors and special gifts because, well, Jesus is “one of us!” We think that because God is our Father and Jesus our brother, God should favor us with special things that we want! He should heal our diseases; give us a good job, good families and what we want. We must never forget that the kingdom of God is far bigger than our own little world.
II. Let’s look next at Jesus’ expanded focus in verses 24-27.
The second part of Jesus’ response shows that he is indeed one of God’s prophets. He says, “I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his hometown.” Jesus here clearly identifies himself as a prophet. And he also is telling them that they will ultimately reject him just as Elisha and Elijah were rejected. But it’s the second part that really gets Jesus into hot water with his hometown.
The two examples that Jesus cites come from 1 Kings 17:8-24 and 2 Kings 5:1-19. There were many needy in Israel, but the prophets’ missions were not just for Israel. Elijah and Elisha did not turn their backs on Israel. The point is that in their mission to Israel, they were also supposed to go to those outside of Israel. Elijah is sent to a woman, a non-Jew and a widow; surely a person of very low status. Certainly this was not one of the chosen people at all. Yet God told Elijah to go and help that woman. Elisha encountered Namaan, a non-Jew and an enemy of Israel from Syria. And not only an enemy outsider but someone who had the disease of leprosy. That meant he was even further outside the realm of the chosen people. He was far from acceptable in the community of God. Imagine a gay Muslim with AIDS and you have an idea of the status of Namaan. With these examples, Jesus shows that good news to the poor embraces the widow, the unclean, the Gentile and those of the lowest status.
So what is our attitude toward outsiders? Do we keep them distinct and apart from us? “They are not one of us!” They are part of the LGBT community or perhaps the homeless community. Or they are Muslim or the group of young adults who aren’t any kind of religion. We live in a world that is less and less like we are and where more and more don’t share our views, morals or even religion and that can be threatening.
In 1977, Oscar Romero, a quiet priest, was made Archbishop of San Salvador. Deemed a safe bet by government authorities, his installation was even used as an excuse for more government- sanctioned murders. The killings radicalized Romero, prompting him to agree with the sentiment of the priests aligned with the poor people of the country. H said, “The church is where it always should have been: with the people, surrounded by wolves.” The martyrdom of a rural priest furthered Romero's radicalism. Against official policies Romero began to support new liturgies and worship services more relevant to the poor and oppressed. He called for the church to become the voice of those whose voices were stopped up. Romero became more and more of a thorn in the government's side. On March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero celebrated Mass from behind the altar of the Chapel of the Divine Providence in San Salvador. As he raised the elements and proclaimed, “This is my body given for you ... this is my blood shed for you,” a single shot was fired killing Romero.
III. The townsfolk’s predictable response is anger as we see in verses 28-29.
Verse 28 says, “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.” “It’s one thing to deny what we want, but to reject us and then go to ‘those’ people?” They were offended and incensed because now the significance of Jesus’ mission has become all too clear to his audience in Nazareth. In verse 29 Luke reports, “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 down the cliff.” Their actions may have been motivated by the Old Testament law which required that anyone making a false claim about being a prophet of God must be killed. Deuteronomy 13:1-11 state this law very clearly. They clearly are rejecting Jesus’ claim to be a prophet sent from God. Moreover, the hostile reaction of the people at this beginning point of Jesus’ ministry points to how his ministry will come to an end. There will be increasing hostility which will ultimately lead to Jesus’ execution.
Yet Luke reports that Jesus “walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” Luke doesn’t say how Jesus was able to do this but simply records it as happening. Satan had urged Jesus to throw himself off the temple so God would protect him. We see here that God does take care of Jesus when there is a legitimate threat. What we also see here is a hint of what is going to happen during Jesus’ passion. Jesus’ escape from death here anticipates his escape from death and the grave through his resurrection. Luke may be saying in effect, “If you think this is something, wait until you see what happens later when Jesus faces death!” Having passed through the crowd, Jesus went on his way. With this, the scene in Nazareth ends but the public ministry has only just begun. Jesus presses on in his ministry to save the ones God would call to believe in him.
What role do we have in reaching those outside of us? There are those who don’t share our values of what is right and wrong. Do we exclude or condemn them? Or do we reach out to them and see if God will use us to reach them? We have Muslims in our community, many of them refugees. They are hurting and needing help. We are reaching out to them.
On November 28, 1999, when Sharon Murphy went to National Airport to pick up the new arrivals from Kosovo, she knew the 45-year-old woman was dying. She drove them from the airport to the hospital, aware that this family of four would be complicated in ways unlike the dozens of others she has had in her care. She took the Kosovars in anyway. She took them to an apartment building in Washington DC, one of the houses for homeless refugees and immigrants that she and her husband Bill call Mary House - houses they bought, renovated, furnished and maintain. But in this apartment, there would be an extra piece of furniture: a hospital bed, and an IV supplying morphine to a woman with terminal cancer. She said, “How could I not take her in?” And, if you are Sharon Murphy - and not someone who might worry about adding to her already intense life the turmoil of a dying Muslim woman who speaks only Albanian, her distraught husband and her two teenage sons - that is the answer. You can't not take her in, because taking people in is what you do.
We are in the desert of a sinful world, but God calls us to be faithful to the mission Jesus started and reach out in the love of Christ to those around us who are outside of us.