The missing part that made the people furious
The gospel for today is just the continuation of the first homily ever delivered by Jesus in his hometown. That created two kinds of reactions among the people. At first, they were amused by the gracious words proclaimed by Jesus, not before long that is changed to a disgust. I wonder what would have made the people to be disgust to Jesus. After all, what Jesus did at the synagogue was just read the text from the book of prophet Isaiah and said that today it is fulfilled.
We do not understand mainly because we don’t understand the passage from the Isaiah that Jesus read at the synagogue. It was one of the well-known passages, in the Old Testament, which speaks the messianic age. If we notice the verse read by Jesus, we see that something is omitted. Jesus said: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Lk 4:18). Jesus stopped there. They expected that he would say the final part as well. But he didn’t, instead he added “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. Although at the beginning it sounded as gracious words, as they recognised the omission, they turned against him.
What did Jesus omit? He omitted the final part: “to proclaim the day of vengeance of our Lord” (Is 61:1-2). It is so crucial for Israelites. Because Israel, the people who had suffered a lot in the exile early from the Assyrians and from the Babylonians, were expecting for so many centuries the punitive intervention of God against those pagans. They were close to the fulfilment of the prophecy that one day a son of David would have a kingdom over the whole world, over all peoples. It would have been our God's revenge.
Jesus instead stopped at a year of totally gratuitous love grace in which God would manifest this gratuitousness of His gifts. Therefore, no more punishments. His words of grace contained an unprecedented message unacceptable to the traditionalist mentality by his fellow villagers.
Now, it helps us to understand the reference to Joseph: “is he not the son of Joseph?” In the Semitic culture son is the one who gives continuity to the father's life and the tradition of his people. And when they say son of a certain person, they mean more than generated by the one who resembles, the one who gives continuity to the values that have been embodied by his father. We know, Joseph is called by the evangelist Matthew “the just man” (Mt 1:19). In Israel a man was known as “righteous” only because of his faithful observances of the torah. We see, the gospel of Luke reminds us how traditionalist the family of Jesus of Nazareth was. From the beginning when he speaks of Mary and Joseph going to the temple for purification the evangelist notes that they act according to the tradition of the law of Moses: “…as written in the law of the Lord to offer a sacrifice a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” (cfr Lk 2:22-24). And again, every year, Luke says, they went to Jerusalem for the Passover fest (Lk 2:41). So here is a family that is faithful to the tradition.
But paradoxically we know that Joseph was not only a mere observant of the laws, but also willing to accept the will of God. That is very much evident in accepting Mary as his wife even though she was found pregnant long before they started to live together.
Unlike Joseph the people at Nazareth stick merely to the tradition. They are not open to the will of God. The vengeance of God they understood in a “punitive” form. But the vengeance of God is something “creative”. For example, St Paul. We read: “I am a Jew, born at Tarsus, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gama′li-el, educated according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as you all are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women... (At 22:3-5). That man later became the apostle of Jesus.
He later says of himself: “Though I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him; but I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, … The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners; but I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience for an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1Tim1:13-16).
So, the vengeance of God is not destructive but creative. It is not exclusive, but inclusive and his justice is mercy.
The people of Nazareth are unable to understand the magnanimity of God and they desired a God according to their thoughts. They wanted prophets who talk according to their thoughts. All those who talked against it were persecuted. The first reading for today also gives us the picture of prophet Jeremiah who was rejected by his people when he pronounced the truth.
It is true even today. People like the one who talk according to their thinking pattern. People always reject truth and one who speak truth. It is written “truth taste bitter”. Children opposes their parents who say the truth, similarly students against teachers, parishioners against the parish priest or bishops etc.
The story of Jesus' rejection in his own hometown is a story that we can identify with. Because it is a story that has happened to most of us. Perhaps we have experienced the pain of rejection, betrayal, abandonment, violated trust, neglect or abuse by those closest to us. Often our friends, families, or childhood companions fail to listen to us, refuse our advice and reject the words of grace, love and encouragement that we offer to them because they are unable to see us as God's appointed instruments, the agents of God's healing and saving grace. Perhaps we ourselves are guilty of such rejection. How often have we discounted people through prejudice? We must realize that God's power is always available to transform even the most unlikely people and that His power may come to us through unlikely instruments.
Let us reflect. First and foremost, are we open to accept or at least to think about the thoughts which are not conforming to ours? Secondly, as prophets, anointed and sent to this world, do we speak truth even if it is bitter? Those are the two challenge the word of God put before us this Sunday.
If we are ready to act as a prophet God will be with us as the Lord says to Jeremiah: “They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you”. That is the hope that we proclaimed even in the responsorial psalm for today. “No matter what happens in my life, God is my rock, God is my refuge. I’ve leaned on you from the moment of my birth. Every breath that I have is a gift from you. And therefore, no matter what happens in my life, no matter what persecution I might face, no matter what opposition I might encounter, I’m going to lean on God. So let us be great prophets of God’s kingdom.
May God bless you!
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