Year C: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Luke 4: 21-30
Like Elijah and Elisha, Jesus was not sent only to the Jews.
Jesus began speaking in the Synagogue, he said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.
Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away.
- In this passage, after his baptismal and desert experiences Jesus gets to work. He answers his divine calling and begins his mission. Do you believe as a Christian you have a divine calling? What new invitations to mission might you be noticing at this time in your life?
- Jesus chooses to identify himself with God and truth over the need for acceptance in his hometown. Are there areas in your life where you reject truth in favor of acceptance? Explain
- How do you go about consciously cooperating with your religious experiences (Close moments or God sightings) to deepen your understanding of their meaning and implications?
- What in this passage speaks to your present life most clearly?
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD
Luke 4: 21-30
Today’s Gospel repeats the last sentence of last Sunday’s reading: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” As we pointed out, the theme of fulfillment, that God’s covenant promises to the Israelites have been fulfilled in Jesus, is very important to Luke. Equally important is Luke’s theme of the universal nature of Christ’s saving acts. Luke is writing to Gentiles and teaching them that they too are now invited into a covenant relationship with God. As we will see, Luke’s theme of universalism is present in today’s reading.
The first words of the Lectionary reading, “Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying…” are not in scripture. We know that today’s reading is not the beginning of Jesus’ talk to those in the synagogue. He has just finished reading from the scroll of Isaiah, the scripture massage to which he is referring when he says, “this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” The crowd’s reaction to Jesus’ remarkable statement is positive: they speak highly of him. However, they also ask, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph” By having the people ask this question Luke is creating what is called dramatic irony between the readers of the Gospel and the characters in the story. Dramatic irony occurs when the author and audience share information that the characters in the story know nothing about. Luke and the readers of the Gospel know that Jesus is God’s own son. This has been made clear in the infancy narratives and in the genealogy. In the genealogy Luke begins by saying, “When Jesus began his ministry, he was about thirty years of age. He was the son, as was thought, of Joseph… ” (Luke 3:23). The reader knows that the people do not know Jesus’ true identity.
The fact that the people are mistaken in their understanding about his identity makes Jesus’ reaction to them more understandable. Jesus speaks as if he knows that he will be rejected by his own. He says, Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place.” Jesus then gives his fellow townspeople two examples from their own history in which Gentiles rather than Israelites benefited from the ministry of the Israelite’s prophets.
The first example comes from 1 Kings. As Jesus says in today’s reading, because of a drought and a severe famine, the great prophet Elijah was sent to a poor widow who provided for his needs. That widow did not live in Israel, but in Sidon. While Elijah was under her care the woman’s son “fell sick, and his sickness grew more severe until he stopped breathing” (1 Kgs 17:17). In response to her cries for help Elijah begged God to give life back to her son. “The Lord heard the prayer of Elijah; the life breath returned to the child’s body” (1 Kgs 17:22). Elijah then returned the son to his mother.
The second example is from 2 Kings. In this story Naaman, a leper who was an army commander of the king of Aram, sought a cure from the prophet Elisha. Elisha told Naaman to wash seven times in the Jordan and his leprosy would be healed. At first Naaman refused to follow Elisha’s directions, but on the urging of his servant he did as he was instructed: “So Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of the man of God. His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (2 Kgs 5:14).
The point Jesus is making, and Luke is emphasizing, is that others may benefit from Israelites’ s’ prophets more than they themselves benefit. This is good news for the Gentiles, Luke’s audience, but bad news for Jesus’ own people. As we see, they are very angered by Jesus’ words. “When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong.”
By describing the angry response of the people and the fact that they want to kill Jesus, Luke is foreshadowing Jesus’ future passion and death as he introduces Jesus’ public ministry. However, the crucifixion will not end with death but with life. This story, too, ends with life: “But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.” Luke is teaching that no amount of opposition can thwart God’s power to save not only the Israelites, but the Gentiles as well.
Tying Experience to Mission
Luke 4, 21-30
Religious experiences entail a shift of consciousness in which we realize we are grounded in a transcendent reality. In the case of Jesus, this realization is expressed in the historical symbolism of the heavens splitting, a dove descending, and a voice speaking, “You are my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” However, it is only after the religious experience ends and consciousness shifts back to more mundane concerns that we notice the experience did not come with complete set of instructions. In the case of Jesus, the Spirit remained with him, but it needed to lead him into other experiences to complement his prayer revelation. It led him into the temptations for further clarity about his identity and back to Nazareth to publicly read the prophesy that would clarify his mission. Temptations and homecoming were needed to deepen his knowledge of the ripped heavens, the dove, and the voice.
A person may have a profound awareness of communion with ultimate reality. This awareness may be triggered by nature, by the death of a parent, by the birth of a child, by the love of a woman or a man, by the quest for scientific truth, by a compassionate woman or man, by the quest for scientific truth, by compassionate events and activities, God’s love breaks into consciousness and grasps a person.
But this depth awareness is fleeting. Ordinary consciousness, not of the Source, but of work, family, finances, etc., returns. How will the Spirit of this religious experience be courted and pursued? Will the person test out its meaning with other ideas? Will sacred books be consulted? If they are, chances are the experience will grow in significance. The meaning and implications of the experience will be deepened. The Spirit of the experience wants this to happen, but the person must cooperate.
Jesus reminds the Nazarenes of an unpopular strand of Jewish tradition. They were not chosen by God to form a closed society and become the beneficiaries of divine blessings of abundance. They were chosen to bring the benefits of the one God to all people. The focus is not on themselves but on what they can do for others. Even Elijah and Elisha, two prophets who staunchly defended the covenant with Israel, knew this. Jesus words suggest the Nazarenes must undergo the same consciousness shift that has transformed Jesus. To be loved means to be sent to others.
When they thought Jesus would bring them untold blessings, they spoke favorably of him. When they understand he is asking them to bring blessings to others, they are enraged. It is a short trip from approval to condemnation. The angry actions of these hometown folks prefigure the Jerusalem elite. The chief priests and scribes will crucify Jesus outside Jerusalem. But their murderous execution will not be final. In the resurrection Jesus will walk through the midst of them. Physical force cannot kill his spiritual reality.
This is one way of understanding what Jesus ran into when he returned to his hometown. When Jesus says things that please the Nazarines, he is raised. What they like is that the promise of the messianic age will be theirs. This supports and blesses their self-centered focus. It also validates the proverbial wisdom they have used to assure themselves of divine favor. They are God’s people. The Messiah will come from them and, naturally, be for them. The doctor’s cure begins at home. When they interpret Jesus’ speech in this way, ‘gracious words” are coming from his mouth.
When Jesus says things that displease the Nazarines, he is attacked. What triggers the displeasure is Jesus’ words that suggest these blessings that they thought were theirs alone would also be given to the Gentiles. Worse, they would be the ones who would bring those blessings to the Gentiles. The depth at which this message was heard is hard to imagine. It touched on the emotional energy of racial hatred and survival. The Nazarines exploded in rage and attempted murder.
People sit on the pleasing-displeasing teeter-totter of their ego. They go up and down depending on whether they feel enhanced or threatened by what is happening. Everything that protects and promotes them creates pleasure and everything else is viewed neutrally or hostilely. But this dynamic is more easily seen in others than it is in ourselves. We see other people behind bars, but we look out from our own prisons without noticing the bars.
So inner attention is a way to be free of this mechanical pleasing-displeasing behavior. We must learn to become aware of the pleasure-displeasure program while it is running. This awareness will allow us to modify the fierceness of our reactions and eventually to experience times when we break free of its hold.
Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle C, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2006 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc. www.paulistpress.com.
Spiritual Commentaries and Teachings are excerpted from The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers by John Shea © 2004 by Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.