From the Lectionaries
By Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Year C, Epiphany 4
31 January 2010
The Gospel today is Lk’s account of the second half of the initial episode of Jesus’ ministry that begins immediately after his temptations (4:1-13). The first half of this episode was the Gospel last week.
The break between last Sunday’s Gospel and this week’s Gospel separates the very brief “era of good feelings” at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry from the moment he declares the nature of his ministry, a declaration that enrages the people of his hometown.
The entirety of this episode is instructive. This is the outline of the Gospel for last week:
1. Jesus filled with the Spirit in Galilee and a report spreading about him (4:14
2. Jesus begins to teach in the synagogues receiving praise from everyone (4:15)
3. In Nazareth, in the synagogue he reads from Isaiah: the Spirit is upon me; he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (4:16-19)
4. The eyes are fixed on Jesus, and he says, “today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (4:20-21). Verse 21 concludes last week’s Gospel, and the verse begins this week’s Gospel.
The outline of the Gospel this week is:
5. All speak well of him and ask if he is Joseph’s son (4:22)
6. Jesus anticipates them saying, “Doctor, cure yourself” and “Do here in your hometown what you did in Capernaum,” and he gives the maxim, “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown” (4:23-24)
7. Jesus gives Elijah’s example: many widows in Israel but Elijah was sent to a widow in Zarephath in Sidon (4:25-26)
8. Jesus gives Elisha’s example: many lepers in Israel but Elisha was sent to a leper, Naaman, in Syria (4:27)
9. The people are enraged; they drive him out of town to the brow of a hill to throw him off a cliff (4:28-29)
10. Jesus passes through them and goes on his way (4:30).
Jesus answers the question of what kind of Messiah he will be and identifies his boundaries as surpassing the boundaries of Israel. The people react against him, and the tension between him and them is established but held in suspense, until his Crucifixion, by his escape from them.
Lk unlike Mk (6:1-6a) and Mt (13:53-58) moves the rebuke of the people for Jesus’ ministry to its very beginning before any extensive teaching, preaching, and healing. Their rebuke is immediate.
Very interesting to me is the second half of verse 23: “And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” Lk omits the episode or episodes in Capernaum having placed the Nazareth episode at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry (immediately after the temptations). But Lk has Jesus refer to the past Capernaum episodes in the future tense, anticipating a comment by the people of Nazareth, “you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” It appears that Lk knows about the Capernaum material from a source; Lk decides not to include it, preferring to inaugurate Jesus’ ministry with the Nazareth episode; and by having Jesus use the future tense in anticipating a remark Lk prepares for the main point of the four subsequent verses: Jesus is a prophet.
We begin to see that Jesus will be a prophetic Messiah. Jesus suggests that Elijah’s ministry to a Sidonian and Elisha’s to a Syrian will model his ministry. Jesus is most direct and blunt in this regard. The Sidonian and the Syrian both are Gentiles. The people’s rage at his references to the prophets deters him not. He will not be a beloved leader, one who will buttress the conservative tradition and “the way we’ve always done things.” He will look to a fuller understanding of God, extending the boundaries of the people’s understanding of God’s concern and love. The people will need to understand what the angel of the Lord proclaimed to the shepherds: Jesus’ ministry is “good news of great joy for all the people” (2:10).
Additionally, as a prophetic Messiah, Jesus is “destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed” as Simeon predicts (2:34). And as Mary’s song foretells, this prophetic Messiah will be part of God’s bringing down the powerful from their thrones and lifting up the lowly (1:52). In the synagogue in Nazareth, these things begin to take place while we watch his ministry from its outset.
The Lectionary devotes two Sundays to the episode in Nazareth. The episode’s effect doubles as a consequence. We cannot expect after it Jesus to be any other than flintily resolute, self-defined, and self-possessed. At no point will he shy away from his first disclosure at Nazareth. Later, at a significant turning point in Lk, we shall read, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (9:51). Jesus’ face, however, is set from the beginning of his ministry. He is who he is, and he will be who he will be.