The issue is not Jesus’ hometown. The issue is not that his faith-community knew him since he was a child. The issue is not the passage Jesus chose to read from the scriptures (the image of restoration was a hope the people had held close for centuries). Those are all good things. It can often feel good to come home.
The issue was his preaching.
Jesus had just emerged from forty days in the wilderness where he had been tempted by comfort, power and security (Luke 4:1-13). He started preaching throughout out Galilee (Luke 4:14-15). As Jesus regained his strength and stamina as entered the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth; he knew the purpose and center for his ministry. He had been honing in his message. It was time to go public.
This scene serves like a mission statement for the ministry we are about to witness over the course of the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles – Jesus brings good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, and he lets the oppressed go free (Luke 4:18-19). As we will see in both Luke and Acts – these themes are both literal and figurative in the encounters Jesus has with people and the community that the Spirit draws around him. Jesus proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor – the longed for jubilee that would overturn political and economic inequity, forgive all debt, reconcile wrongdoing and restore the whole people. It was a promise of the past when the people lived freely in the land, it was remembered when they had returned from exile, and in Jesus’ day it lived in a Messianic hope that Rome would be toppled, and the fortunes of Israel would be restored.
Jesus’ message was controversial because he preached, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Jesus was calling for revolution, but a revolution that was already won and was now being realized. It was preposterous. Rome still dominated everything. The people were still oppressed. Hunger and poverty were everywhere. Sickness and death pervaded everyday life. Scarcity and fear held a tight grip on everything known and experienced. The world was a mess.
It still is.
Many in our time are hopeless and cynical that our lives could be any different from the injustice, pain, death and powerlessness we see and know. Either Jesus was a liar, deluded by his own sense of calling and purpose, or by his very presence – changed everything. The people listening to Jesus that day couldn’t see it. Their ears were not open to receive that message.
People we care about struggle with their health and the financial burden that goes with it (we do too). Injustice, abuse and exploitation are everywhere. We keep overlooking the systemic ways people are devalued and mistreated, pretending suffering isn’t there, that it never happened, or could never happen to us. Our debt owns us. Our economy consumes us. Our prisons overflow. How would the people in your life react if Jesus told us “today” we would all be free?
How do we?
The people in the synagogue smiled at Jesus’ words at first, but they questioned his background, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22). They were quick to argue and dismiss him. As the scene escalated, they threatened his life (Luke 4:23-30). How many interactions like this have you had or know of with family, friends, neighbors and co-workers that quickly get out of hand when talking about the real challenges we face as individuals, families, churches, communities, nation and world?
When we fail to listen to Jesus or act in the hope that God’s promises are realized in real time – we continue to reject him. Yet the witnesses of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection in this and every age continue claim that his very presence among us does in fact change our perspective, reality and the trajectory of our lives.
Listen to the promise: Whatever hardship we face, Jesus’ kingdom comes “Today in your hearing.” Be free of what burdens you and join the jubilee. If the kingdom of God really comes “today in our hearing“…
…How would we see the world differently?
…How could we live differently?
…What should we do differently?