This week marks one of those rare moments in the Revised Common Lectionary when the final verse from the Gospel lection in one week is carried over to the first verse in the next. And so we revisit the story of Jesus going home to Nazareth, where he reads from the Isaiah scroll:
Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, “Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’ ” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. –Luke 4:21-30 NRSV
Everything seemed to be going so well, right up to the moment when somebody observed “Hey, we know this guy. Isn’t he Joseph the carpenter’s kid? How dare he spout this kind of stuff!”
One way to sum up this is to say that people tend to observe what’s going on with “old eyes” rather than new ones. The familiar, the expected, the comfortable, the jaded, the jaundiced, the stereotypical. Fortunately for Jesus, he not only got to make his point and elaborate on it, but he made a safe getaway, as well.
We hear way too much from certain political corners these days about “Fake News.” The past few years the whole concept of truth has taken quite a battering. There’s political spin, partial truths, little white lies, outright falsehoods, and outrageous and downright nasty charges from one side to the other. Sadly, we’ve almost come to expect all that as normal in politics and civil discourse. It spills over into many areas of public and private life, of course, including religious discourse.
Truth with a capital “T” is a challenging topic for most people. I confess it is for me. With my own background in journalism I’m more than a bit familiar with the topic of objectivity and whether such a thing actually exists in this day and age, or ever has. But that’s not the road I want to go down here.
That hometown crowd witnessing Jesus’ memorable visit to the Nazareth synagogue was quite accepting of Jesus, at least as long as he said nothing to challenge or confront their tidy little worldview. But Jesus refused to play to the crowd and perform a few miracles, as he had done elsewhere. That’s when, well, “stuff” hit the fan, so to speak, and next thing you know angry words led to angry actions and everybody’s out at the edge of town thinking it would be a dandy idea to throw this young guy off a cliff.
In this case it wasn’t just the “truth” Jesus said in the synagogue but the “Truth” of who he was. That challenged them on multiple layers and was perceived by those in attendance as offensive. The Gospel writer Luke didn’t just throw this story in because it made good copy. This moment marked the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. About three years later another, different crowd “escorted” Jesus to a hill on the edge of a bigger town, Jerusalem, where they would nail him to a cross and watch him die. Yet even that wouldn’t be the end of Jesus’ “story.”
The liturgical season known as Epiphany has another whole month before the beginning of Lent. That is a time when, traditionally, we Christians not only ponder “Truth” but our own relationship and response to it. Maybe this year, with an extra few weeks in the season of Epiphany, we can get a head start on that process.
*Some portions adapted from the ForeWords archive
My most recent book, Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile, is up on Amazon in both print and e-book formats: 161-page Book ; Kindle e-book. The ancient Hebrew prophets can serve as guides for modern-day prophetic communities to engage in actions for peace and social justice. Each of the 10 chapters includes questions for reflection and discussion, making this great for class use. My previous book What Was Paul Thinking? is also available on Amazon in both print and Kindle e-book editions.</em