Introduction to this study
After announcing the words of Isaiah fulfilled in himself, Jesus reflects on the historical rejection of many who prophetically speak the truth of God’s mercy, judgment, justice, freedom and love—and human response in the Spirit. Jesus clearly recognizes himself in their tradition.
21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22 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?” 23 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.’”
24 And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25 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; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 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. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
Luke 4:21-30 completes the story from Luke 4:14-21 we heard on Epiphany 3. Jesus has returned to Nazareth and is at the synagogue, participating on the Sabbath day; he reads from the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because 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.” (Luke 4:18-19) The key verse in understanding this entire passage comes next, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)
Jesus is not speaking to strangers but in his own hometown, surrounded by those who had watched him grow up in the synagogue. They know Joseph. They know Jesus’ family.
1. How could Jesus make such a claim?
2. What is at the heart of the reaction of the crowd?
Jesus does not seem to be surprised or dismayed by their reaction. He almost expects it. As we know from the Old Testament, for centuries God sent prophets to speak God’s word to the people of Israel, only to have the prophets rejected. Sometimes that word of God comforted and consoled, but at other times it was a hard word to hear as the prophet called people to repentance and obedience, to return to God.
3. Why might a prophet be rejected in his or her hometown?
4. Why might a prophet be rejected in other places?
5. If the prophet brings good news and a restored relationship with God, why not listen?
Jesus reminds those in the synagogue of familiar Old Testament prophets who extended God’s goodness to non-Jews. For example, God sent Elijah to assist a poor widow in Sidon during a time of famine (1 Kings 17:8-16) and Elisha to heal Naaman, a Syrian (2 Kings 5:1-17). This does not seem to reassure anyone, but instead the people become enraged!
6. Why do the people in the synagogue react so strongly?
7. What is at the heart of their rage?
The people drive Jesus out of town and attempt to hurl him over the cliff, but Jesus is able to pass through the enraged crowd and continue on with his mission.
8. How might Jesus have felt to be rejected by his hometown synagogue?
9. What would you say to Jesus at this point (the very beginning) of his public ministry?
Jesus’ references to the widow at Zarephath and the leper Naaman the Syrian, reveals Jesus has come especially to the widows, the lepers, the outsiders. Luke tends to focus on Jesus’ ministry to the “least of these.” But we know Jesus is for everyone, and for all creation! In the stories of both Elijah and Elisha, God goes into places where most people believed God was not and in God’s holiness and otherness, God did not belong. Jesus’ words of inclusion, Jesus’ own interpretation of his ministry, evoke an almost instantaneous transition from awe to rage for the hearers of Jesus’ words. Why?
The evangelist Luke frequently presents Jesus as prophet. Later on in the gospel, Jesus as a righteous and innocent prophet will be made clear by Luke’s account of the centurion’s words at the death of Jesus—“surely, this man was innocent” (Luke 23:47). Remembering the role of the Old Testament prophets is important for this passage.
Prophets and Prophecy
In this passage, Luke uses the Greek word that’s the same as “prophet” in English. It essentially means delivering the word of God, though prophet and prophecy carry a strong connotation of “speaking truth to power” of all kinds: ecclesiastical, governmental, institutional... The Hebrew Bible brings us a trio of prophet-type words: the most frequently used nabi means to pour down – think of flowing water!
describes someone pouring out the words of God. Roeh or “seer,” denotes envisioning; Hozeh also means “to see,” “to perceive.”
Where We Live
read Jeremiah 1:4-10
Baptized into Christ, we all participate in his royal, prophetic priesthood. God’s word is a word of life, of hope—of resurrection!
10. How does God call us to be prophets?
11. How do we speak God’s word of life?
12. How can we be God’s life-giving word?
13. How can we live as God’s word of life?
14. Are we open to God’s life- and world-transforming actions in our own lives?
Sunday after next we’ll conclude this season of Epiphany with the Feast of the Transfiguration, and then it’s time to settle into Lent, the 40-day long season that prepares us for Easter, as it brings its own gifts and perspectives into our lives and community. We always are in the midst of and participating in helping the blind see again, setting the oppressed and captive free, of proclaiming the “today” of the Lord’s favor in word, in action, and in just plain “being.” As we conclude this liturgical season, we carry the illuminating light of Epiphany into the sometimes dark months of Lent that yet signal Easter on the way. We think we know the rest of the story...
15. Do we trust the rest of the story?
Final thoughts: What insights have you gained in this study? Concluding remarks?