Scripture: Luke 4: 22-30; 1 Corinthians Chapter 13
The main takeaway from today’s Gospel reading is essentially,’Isn’t this just the carpenter’s son?’ You may recall that Jesus had just read from the scroll in his local synagogue. He recognized that ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me‘ . Everyone was impressed by the ‘gracious words that came from his mouth.’ Yet now they questioned his authority. ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son?’ Joseph was a mere carpenter. Most scholars assume that the young Jesus worked in his father’s shop. That didn’t seem to qualify him as Messiah-material. In other words, ‘Who does this guy think he is? He can’t be the Messiah. He’s just a carpenter’s son. We’ve known him all his life!’
Jesus’ neighbours went from love-in to anger
It went beyond, ‘Isn’t this just the carpenter’s son?’ They added sarcastically, ‘We’ve heard that you’ve been doing miracles in Capernaum. How about doing some here?’ At first, everyone spoke well about Jesus, but then they started criticizing. It’s an unfortunate trait of human nature. It’s typical of the ‘tall poppy’ syndrome. ‘We know this guy Jesus. He’s got a cheek to say, ‘Today the Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’’
The people of Nazareth were taken aback by Jesus’ proclamation. It felt to them as if I read the Gospel and then announced that I am the Messiah. They had to cut down the tall poppy. This Jesus guy had got a swollen head.
Then Jesus threw back this challenge, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in his own home town.” Things got so nasty that Jesus had to make a quick exit from the synagogue and leave town.
‘All spoke well of him’ and ‘Isn’t this just the carpenter’s son?’: two reactions to the same person
When we elect a new political, business, or church leader, we expect them to fix everyone’s problems. Four years ago, the majority in Canada elected Justin Trudeau as Prime Minister. He seemed like a breath of youthful fresh air after the somewhat dour Stephen Harper. No longer. Like every Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau has made decisions that not everyone agreed with. He bought an oil pipeline, wore the wrong clothes in India, and fired the ambassador to China. After four years, the bloom is off the rose.
The same thing happened to Jesus. First, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” Then, all too quickly, “Isn’t this just the carpenter’s son?”
That jibe, ‘Isn’t this just the carpenter’s son?’ must have really stung Jesus. It was a put-down of both Jesus himself and his family origin.
The Gospel Jesus wasn’t always easy to get along with
Jesus chided his neighbours by telling them that no prophet is accepted in his home town. Then he quoted two Old Testament stories in a way that really got to them. During a great famine in Israel, the prophet Elijah had saved a widow in modern day Lebanon from starvation. Elijah’s successor Elisha had cured a Syrian army commander Namaan of his leprosy. The Hebrew Scriptures present these stories as acts of compassion to outsiders by Elijah and Elisha.
The way that Jesus’ told it, it sounded as if the prophets had helped foreigners at the expense of Israelites suffering from hunger and leprosy. That really angered the folks in Nazareth. The implication was, ‘If you won’t accept me as the Messiah, screw you. I’ll take my message to other people.’ The people in the synagogue were so angry that Jesus had to make a fast exit. They were threatening to throw him off a cliff!
From then on, Jesus’ ministry took place beyond the synagogue
Jesus didn’t abandon Judaism, even though we never again meet him in an ‘official’ synagogue capacity. He still visited the Jerusalem Temple for religious festivals like Passover. But he preached and taught in the towns and villages of Galilee, far from Jerusalem. He ministered to blind people, lepers, people with mental illnesses (then called demons), and prostitutes. Others included a Samaritan woman and a poor widow with just two copper coins. These people were the ones spoken about in the Scripture that Jesus had read at Nazareth.
The Spirit of the Lord was upon Isaiah and upon Jesus – to bring good news to the poor, to bring recovery of sight to the blind, and to set the oppressed free. Jesus proclaimed his ministry from the holy scrolls and then acted on it. He took his ministry to those outside the synagogue; they did not go there to meet him. In fact, Jesus consistently faced opposition from the Pharisees, who were the leaders of the synagogue movement.
Although Jesus was snippy with the folks in Nazareth, he spoke an important truth
Most people who need to hear a Gospel of hope, peace, joy and love are outside the church. Our own church community here at St. George’s is wonderful at providing help and comfort to our members who are in trouble. But Jesus tells us that our ministry also lies with people in the wider community. Some people do not have a friend to talk to when a serious illness scares them. Others have lost their jobs and feel shame because they cannot support their families. Yet other people are lonely because of broken relationships.
Paul’s wonderful exposition on love
There is a very different message in today’s other Scripture, St. Paul’s great essay on love, from First Corinthians. Paul tells us that love is not arrogant or rude. Instead, it is patient and kind. But most of all, Paul insists that it means nothing if we act without love, even if we seem to be generous and compassionate people. How is that? we ask. I suspect that Paul meant that sometimes we practise outwardly altruistic behaviour, yet in reality have an ulterior motive. I would not be acting out of love if I gave very generously to charity just to let other people see what a great guy I am. That would make me what Paul called a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal, no matter how generous I seemed. That’s why he wrote, ‘If I give away all my possessions but do not have love, I am nothing.’
Four kinds of love
We often hear this passage about love at weddings. The bride and groom gaze rapturously at each other. Romantic love is in the air. However, the English word ‘love’ has to cover a whole lot of territory. Paul wrote in Greek, which has four different words for love. Besides eros (romance), there are philia (friendship) and storgé (familial love, as between parents and children). Finally, there is agapé (translated as compassion, kindness, or respect). This is almost always what love means in the Scriptures. This is the baptismal promise we make when we assent to the question, “Will you respect the dignity of every human being?” Agapé is the hardest of the four types of love, because it is the most free of self-interest. It is outward-looking, whereas eros, philia, and storgé all anticipate reciprocity.
Today’s Gospel passage shows a lack of agapé love
The people of the Nazareth synagogue lacked compassion towards Jesus. I’m sure it was hard to believe that the Messiah had appeared among them. Surely the Messiah would come from the priestly class. But ‘Isn’t this just the carpenter’s son?’ seems to be a rather demeaning reaction. Agapé love is not arrogant or rude.
But Luke doesn’t seem to portray Jesus any better. He could have left his response at ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in their home town.” The way he talked about the widow that Elijah helped, or the soldier whose leprosy Elisha cured, seems unnecessarily provocative. It certainly did nothing to defuse an awkward situation.
Today’s Gospel seems to be an object lesson in how not to behave. But it also shows how easily we can fail to act with love and respect towards people we disagree with.