God's love is universal. 4:22-30
Our passage for study continues the story of Jesus' preaching mission in his home-town synagogue at Nazareth, 4:14-30. The congregation was impressed with Jesus' confident reading of the scriptures, but were less than impressed with his application of the prophet's words. "Whereas people were willing enough to hear a general exposition on the blessings of the Messianic Age, it was a different matter when they were taunted with unpatriotic notions from the prophets; when the coming Messianic Age was somehow identified with the humble teacher who now sat before them and whose parents were their own neighbors. From admiration the congregation turned to anger, and the mob intended to lynch Jesus", W. Browning.
v22. In typical fashion, Jesus, having just read and translated some verses from the Hebrew text of Isaiah, now, as a visiting Rabbi, expounds their meaning. The congregation is impressed by Jesus' sermon; they are amazed at his message of divine grace. For Luke, this initial response witnesses to Jesus' true character. Yet, the congregation is skeptical; they know of Jesus' origins. As a boy, Jesus had played in their streets and some even knew of the hurried marriage of Mary and Joseph and the rather early arrival of their first child. So, his authority is not easily accepted. The reference to Joseph may simply be a restating of Jesus' name; "Jesus Barjoseph" = "Jesus, Son-of-Joseph", or it could serve to link Jesus with Joseph, a well-remembered citizen (now likely dead).
v23. The congregation does not believe that Jesus is any sort of prophet, let alone the long-awaited messiah, but of course, if he is willing to produce the goods, an Elijah/Elisha miracle or two, then they may be willing to consider his credentials. Yet, for Jesus, signs are not for skeptics, but for believers. The person who believes sees. As for the proverb, the gist of it is: "you profess, now produce." If Jesus is something more than Joseph's (bastard) son, then where is the evidence?
v24. The term, "I tell you the truth", "truly I say unto you", possibly equates with the Old Testament phrase, "thus saith the Lord." Luke uses it six times, and on each occasion the phrase introduces a prophetic word concerning the coming kingdom of God. So here, Jesus reminds his audience of Israel's tendency to reject their prophets, and aligns this with his own rejection, not just by the citizens of Nazareth, but by Israel as a whole. Of course, in rejecting Jesus the "prophet" they actually reject the messiah.
v25-27. Only Luke records the Elijah and Elisha sayings, alluding to 1 Kings 17-18 and 2 Kings 5:1-14. During this time in history, Israel faced God's chastisement for their rebellion. What few blessings that did flow from God at this time, flowed to Gentiles rather than Jews. Jesus is making the point that God in the past has turned from rebellious Israel and has ended up blessing outsiders. The congregation's rejection of Jesus serves only to align them with the foolishness of that previous generation.
v28. The members of the congregation clearly understand the point made by Jesus and are "furious".
v29. In typical fashion, the congregation set about to excommunicate Jesus by hustling him out of the village and thus, symbolically make him a Gentile. There may be a crucifixion image here in the way the incident is described - a picture of things to come.
v30. Jesus' "passing through them on his way" is a rather enigmatic expression, but probably simply describes Jesus regaining his composure at the edge of town, eyeing the people off and walking through them on his way. As John in his gospel often puts it, "his hour had not yet come." Jesus must go the "way" of Calvary and not even the powers of darkness can interfere with this divine "way". Also, Jesus' "passing through them" may be a resurrection image following on from the crucifixion image in v29.
Called to love
The gospel expresses a depth of love that is more radical and more inclusive than the fragile relationships we mere mortals are ever able to create. In matters related to Christian relationships, we are always called to struggle for a depth of love and acceptance that reflects the amazing inclusivity of God's love. How much more might God be able to do with us if we were ready to transcend the boundaries of community and the limits of love that we ourselves have erected? For example, for those of us privileged to exercise a teaching ministry, how much more effective might our ministry be if we could appreciate the insight and energy of the prophetic voices that critique us? It is never too late to respond to God's call to love beyond our self-imposed limits.
God has often reached beyond the confines of his hardened people and in Jesus he is willing to do the same today. The gospel proclaims God's universal love, yet we can easily allow this love to bypass us. Like the good citizens of Nazareth, it is very easy to profess our faith, but be hardened to it. The fact is, God bypasses those who are hardened to his word. So, be warned!
We are also reminded that as God's mercy in Christ reaches beyond the impermanent social confines of institutional religion, so should we look beyond those confines as well. The doors of our church, as of our life, should be wide open to the world.
The focus of the passage is not upon the potential beneficiaries of God's grace in Christ, but upon the potential losers. Is there a warning here for us?
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