An offer, a rejection, and a result. That is the story. It is an old story, spanning millennia. It is God’s story. It plays out from the Garden and continues on through until the fulfillment of eternity. God offered man a beautiful garden life; a life of perfect relationships – relationships between mankind and God, men and women, and mankind and nature. The offer was made and rejected and the result was being kicked out of the Garden and losing perfect relationship. The offer was made to the Israelites; an offer of relationship between a nation and a Holy God. This offer came with rules of conduct that would help relationship, not just between God and Israel, but also within community. Over and over again, the offer was rejected, and the result was famine, war, and captivity. And along came Jesus. Repeat.
The story of Jesus’ rejection in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30) may represent more of a widespread rejection by his own people. Jesus comes to Nazareth where he spent some of his growing up years. Word has spread and it seems natural for the synagogue official to ask Jesus to read from the prophets and say a few words. Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah and finds 61:1-2. We are not sure about what happened during the synagogue service. Many sources suggest a liturgical reading of Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy) followed by a more random reading of the prophets which was often commented upon by the reader. Maybe. It seems likely that Jesus picked Isaiah. It is very likely that he knew exactly which passage he wanted to read in the Nazareth synagogue.
Isaiah 61:1-2 is a reworking of jubilee laws to illustrate God’s salvation. In particular, that God would save his people from captivity. The year of jubilee became a perfect symbol of salvation because it was all about keeping things even. Every fifty years, land or people who had been sold due to extreme poverty, were restored. This was obviously good news for those who got their property or freedom back. Maybe not so much for those who lost land and servants. The Israelites began to expect the coming Messiah would issue in a permanent jubilee; a leveling of status; an ending of oppression. Is it any wonder that the poor were a bit more excited about the Messiah? The poor will be the focus recipients of the good news because it would mean more to them. The captives would be set free along with the oppressed. And the anointed one will proclaim the acceptable or welcomed year of the Lord. The eternal jubilee is here.
Jesus hands off the scroll sits down and makes this outrageous claim. The prophecy is fulfilled in their ears. He is the anointed of God – the Messiah who issues in the long awaited jubilee. All had been witnessing of him and being amazed at the word of grace coming out of his mouth. The phrase word of grace may imply a powerful message; empowered by the grace of God. They were impressed but skeptical. Calling him the son of Joseph may be about familiarity – “Why that’s just ol’ Joseph’s boy. Who is he to be speaking all high and mighty?” There may be some insinuation here as well – “At least the story is that he is Joseph’s boy. Who knows?”
Jesus responds by showing he knows their hearts. They were about to spew a fairly common proverb, “Physician, heal yourself.” This is similar to what was said about Jesus while on the cross, “he supposedly saved others let him save himself.” It is an accusation. “How can one who claims to be Messiah be so shabby; so poor; so common? We heard (insert air quotes here) about what was done in Capernaum. Do something spectacular here. Maybe we’ll believe.” Jesus then tells them that no prophet is accepted in his hometown or homeland. Elijah was sent to the Sidonian widow even though many widows were hungry in Israel. Elisha healed Naaman the Syrian of leprosy even though there were a boat load of Israelites with leprosy. The point is that Israel has often rejected the prophets sent to them by God. The blessing that was to be theirs is then offered to non-Israelites. The offer was made, it was rejected, and the result was someone else enjoyed the blessing. Nazareth became enraged and most likely tried to stone him to death. It was not his time.
The offer has been made in the life, teaching, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. It is an offer of jubilee. Will you reject or accept. Please accept the offer. The result of rejection is that you will not receive the blessing. And can God be faulted here? Many try. The offer has been made. The ball is in your court. Don’t miss out on jubilee. Peace, Walter