Summary: An in depth understanding of the bible passage of Jesus' rejection in his home town and what message it has for us today.
Our reading from Luke 4:16-30 is known as the Rejection at Nazareth. It takes place immediately after Jesus had been tempted by the devil in the Judean Desert and before he travels to Capernaum, where he teaches and performs many miracles.
In it we find a fast moving story that turns from respect and intrigue into hate and attempted murder. Jesus goes to the synagogue where he reads from the scroll of Isaiah. But he hands back the scroll stopping short of an important point for the Jews. In his reading he announces that the spirit of the Lord is upon him. Although those around him are amazed at his wisdom, His words anger them because they see themselves as Gods chosen people, who are perfect, and they do not agree that the good news should also be for the Gentiles. They are angered by his words and throw him out of the synagogue and take him from the city where they drag him to a hill top and try to throw him off a cliff, but he manages to walk away from them unhindered.
Luke is a comprehensive Gospels, written around 60 A.D. A Dr by profession, he had a style of writing, that not only showed he was an educated but a caring man, who had an eye for detail. His main purpose in writing the gospel was to give an accurate account of Jesus’ life and to show Him as both a perfect human being and the Saviour. He often spoke out about the telling of good news, which made him an evangelist.
To put our reading into a geographical context it is important to know that Nazareth was built in a hollow on the southern slopes of the Galilean hills and from the top of the hill a view could be seen that stretched for many miles. Its situation was at a busy convergence of three major trade routes, making it an important place both biblically and commercially.
The synagogue was a place where people went to read and study the scriptures. There they had set prayers and readings for each day of the year, a little similar to our lectionaries. This was Jesus’ first public sermon, which holds an important place in Luke’s gospel, as it marks the beginning of his ministry, which all started in his childhood town of Nazareth.
When Jesus began to read it was not from the Torah, but from the scroll of Isaiah that was handed to him by the Chazan or the cantor of the synagogue. He began at the appointed reading from Isaiah 61:1-2.
Jesus began his sermon with a statement “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” The anticipation from those around him was great as eyes were fixed upon him. They waited for him to say more. Some may have accepted what he was saying and others did not. With the words “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” the people who were listening to him began to realise and to understand the depth of what he was saying.
Piece by piece they strung together his words, actions, and stories, which they had just heard until they reached a point when they finally realised that he was speaking about himself. This was the point where they began to despise him.
Jesus stopped reading in mid sentence, finishing with the year of the Lord’s favour and this was what caused the consternation; it was what Jesus did not say as opposed to what he did say. This was quite often the case. The Jewish people expected God to restore Israel to what they considered was its rightful position and to show no mercy to those who had persecuted them. On one hand their way of thinking could be understood, especially when you look back at their exodus from Egypt and how God crushed the Egyptians as they pursued them across the Red Sea, so why should they expect it to be any different now. Initially the Jews were impressed by Jesus’ words but when He spoke about their Roman captors in a forgiving way and showed that the good news was for Jew and also the Gentile alike, they began to seethe with anger. They did not want to share their privileges with non Jews and they disagreed with what was being said.
After reading from the scroll he handed it back and sat down. This was an act that signified that he was about to teach, because teachers sat whilst pupils remained standing. But the words that Jesus read caused the Jewish people to think deeply about what they had just heard. The text that he had read spoke strongly of a Messiah and the work that he was called to do, such as bringing good news to both Jew and Gentile alike.