Last week, when we were looking at the verses that came before this, I gave the example of being a worship leader for a congregation. Quite often worship leaders are people from the congregation who one way or another come to these type of leadership roles. One week they are at the front and next week they are part of the congregation and are being lead by another. There is not hierarchy or authority granted to them – they are one of the crowd. Each person, whether in the pews or in front of the congregation, is on equal footing. But this was not so with Jesus.
So we when Jesus read from the scroll and told those gathered there that this passage has been fulfilled, the congregation might have meant, “Isn’t nice that the local boy has grown up to be such a fine and well-spoken young man. Who would have thought that the son of Joseph would grow up so.”
“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?” (Luke 4:21-22)
But some biblical commentators also suggest that those gathered there might have understood the full import of his words, that it was through his/Jesus’ power and authority that these words are fulfilled. And that Jesus was telling them so very directly and openly. The writer of the gospel of Luke does not have Jesus leaving it at that either. Jesus takes up the stream of thought that he was indeed announcing his Messiah-ship. But not necessarily for the benefit of his home town.
“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.” (Verses 23 to 27)
Jesus brings their attention to the fact that many well-known Jewish sons did nothing for those in their hometowns but ministered instead to those far away – others not of their own background and location. And this seemed to be a touchy subject. But I was not sure I could pinpoint why. So I went to my favorite biblical commentator.
Barnes wrote a five point outline of why the Jews gathered there took offense. Rather than trying to paraphrase him, I will simply quote him:
1. They saw that the cases applied to themselves, because they would not receive the miraculous evidences of his mission.
2. That he would direct his attention to others, and not to them.
3. That the “Gentiles” were objects of compassion with God, and that God often showed more favor to a “single” Gentile than to multitudes of Jews in the same circumstances.
4. That they might be “worse” than the Gentiles. And,
5. That it was a part of his design to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, and not confine his labors to them only.
“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.” (Verses 28-30)
It is just as true for people now, as than, that if you do not believe in Jesus and in the God that sent Jesus, you are outside of God’s grace. That having forebearers who believed in Jesus and God does not automatically make you a believer also; it is a life choice not a inheritance. That one might be very surprised who is counted amongst believers, and who is not. And that anyone can be a “child of God.”
All of which brings us to our theme for this lectionary year – confession, penance and forgiveness. Those who do not think that they are eligible for God’s grace may very well be those whose God’s grace is designed for. And those who think God’s grace is assured to them may be very surprised. Of course God’s grace is open to anyone . . . who believes and asks for grace through confession and penance.