Jesus is immediately rejected as Messiah
Luke 4 : 14 – 30
Jesus began his public ministry in his home area of Galilee. This was a region in the north of Palestine, 50 miles from north to south and 25 miles from east to west, that is roughly from here to Lockerbie and from Edinburgh to Harthill. The Hebrew word Galil means circle, so-called because that area was surrounded by non-Jewish nations. Galilee was influenced by new ideas and was progressive in culture. It was densely populated. It had 204 villages and towns, averaging 15,000 in population, bigger than Armadale today. There could have been as many as 3,000,000 people living in Galilee at the time of Jesus. Imagine more than half the population of Scotland living from here to Lockerbie!
Galilee was very fertile. You could grow anything there. Good climate and plentiful water made it the garden of Palestine. Galileans were like our highlanders of past centuries. They were always up for a fight and a rebellion. They were quick tempered and quarrelsome in nature. They never lacked courage and put honour before money. The first reactions to Jesus' speaking and teaching in the synagogues were good. His genuineness and authority impressed those who heard him. Jewish law stated that wherever there were 10 families, there should be a synagogue. There was only one Temple - in Jerusalem - but every town and village had its synagogue just like our parish churches. Nazareth was a town of about 20,000 residents. From a hill nearby you could see the places of Old Testament history. There were 3 great roads visible too, one to Jerusalem, one from Egypt to Damascus in Syria and the trade route to Arabia used by the Romans. The Sabbath synagogue service was in 3 parts; prayers, seven short readings from the Scriptures – what we call The Old Testament, and the teaching exposition. They did not have full time rabbis and so someone in the congregation recognised for quality of life and learning was invited to speak. That is the way the Christian Brethren are organised today in our country. Discussion followed the teaching. Jesus was recognised because he had always gone to synagogue and was already well respected locally. The Scriptures were given to Jesus by the synagogue attendant, the equivalent of our Church Officer. Jesus read the last lesson for the day; it was his choice of reading; Isaiah 61: 1-2. 'The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. Jesus sat down which rabbis did when teaching. Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing', He said.
So far, so good. The people liked his beginning and were surprised by his gracious words – both manner and content reflected something beyond his education and circumstances. 'Isn't this Joseph's son?' Some asked. That suggests that Joseph was still alive at the beginning of Jesus' ministry. Thereafter, it is His Mother Mary who features exclusively. We don't have the full account of what Jesus said. There is a gap because the good will evaporates very quickly and Jesus is in contention with the worshippers during the discussion time. 'Ah kent his faither' is good Scots idiom diminishing someone who has achieved something. We have a wonderful capacity to bring people down. Lots of people claim to have known and know Susan Boyle since she became famous, even if they had no time for her for years before she appeared on Britain's Got Talent. Some have thought that the phrase 'Physician heal thyself' suggests that Jesus was physically impaired in some way but it seems that Jesus was being challenged and perhaps goaded into performing a miracle there and then to order. Word had spread about his healing ministry in Capernaum in particular. We know from the Gospels that Jesus did not do miracles to order. And so here. 'No prophet is accepted in his own town', He said, sensing unbelief and scepticism and the start of rejection. Why did this happen? Because Jesus identified the prophecy in Isaiah with Himself thus claiming to be the Messiah. It was OK as long as He spoke in general terms, pastorally, helpfully. When he made this direct connection with himself, the people did not like it. No prophet is accepted among his own people is one of the Bible's ideas that is used throughout the whole world. Over the centuries, many Scots have gone abroad to find fulfilment and success, feeling that the negative atmosphere at home prevented achievement and recognition. Nothing is as obvious as this in 2014 in relation to the independence referendum.
Jesus upped the anti. Jesus was no wallflower. He did not back down. He often did not seek reconciliation either. He went on the attack. He went out of his way to antagonise his critics even more. He did that here. He touched the most sensitive nerve of the Jewish soul; the distinction between Jew and Gentile. He attacked this distinction by referring to what God had done in the past. The prophet Elijah who lived in the 9th Century BC had been sent to help a widow of Zarephath in the region of Sidon. This was in today's Lebanon, originally Phoenicia. At the time of Jesus it was very much a cosmopolitan and prosperous fishing community with Greek and Roman cultural influences. Very Gentile! Elisha who followed Elijah was God's instrument of healing for a Syrian General called Namaan. In both cases, God acted mercifully to non-Jews.
Jesus had begun to inaugurate the New Israel but these members of the present Israel of the day did not like His message that God loved humanity universally and not racially or exclusively. Jesus was saying something deeper also. He was making the point that His fellow Jews were complacent and inward looking whereas people who had faith to ask God for what they needed could find God and His blessing together.
This message seriously annoyed the synagogue worshippers listening to Jesus that Sabbath in Nazareth. It infuriated them. Enraged them. These people were not into tolerance and freedom of expression. But why was their reaction disproportionate? Because of Jesus' status, standing, power and presence – because He had the Holy Spirit in and around him. Because this was a spiritual battle with no quarter. Because Jews in Jesus' time were difficult, argumentative, short-tempered and violent in nature. We take love, grace, forgiveness and peace for granted – but these are Christian virtues, hard won by Jesus in us as much as in anyone.
Again – it is hard for us to piece together the sequence of events. Next we read that so furious were the worshippers at Jesus' claims for Himself to be the Messiah and worse a Messiah for Gentiles as much as for Jews that they pushed and shoved Him out of the synagogue and as far as the edge of the town in a disorderly mob. They seemed intent on doing away with Jesus there and then. They tried to throw him off a cliff nearby after which they intended to rain down stones and boulders on him – part of the standard punishment for blasphemy. Verse 30 concludes this passage cryptically. 'But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way'. What happened? It may have been that Jesus' presence deterred the people when it came to the point of injury and execution. It may be that there was a lot of confusion. Maybe some people who had known Jesus' family and knew Him relented. Maybe the Holy Spirit psyched out Jesus' new enemies and prevented them doing Him any harm. The power of God is great. His time was not yet come. He had not accomplished anything. He had not formed the beginnings of the New Israel. He had not redeemed the world. All that was to come – but it had all kicked off – it had begun.