Gospel for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (31 January 2016)
Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”
And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way. [Luke 4 21-30 – NRSV]
Similar texts may be found in Mark 6:1-6 and Matthew 13:53-58.
The Jerusalem Bible says of this passage in Luke – 4:16-30: “Apparently this passage combines three visits (to Nazareth): the first, vv. 16-22 (Jesus is honoured), occurring at the time indicated by Matthew 4:13; the second, vv. 23-24 (Jesus astonishing his audience), the visit of which Matthew and Mark speak; the third, vv. 25-30 (the life of Jesus threatened), not mentioned by Matthew or Mark and to be placed towards the end of the Galilean ministry. In this way Luke presents an introductory tableau which is a summary and symbol of Christ’s great offer and of its contemptuous rejection by his own people.” (See the footnote g in the JB to Luke 4:16-30.) According to this exegesis, today’s reading – Luke 4:21-30 – includes the second and third visits to Nazareth.
Has been fulfilled ....The Scripture that “has been fulfilled” is Isaiah 61:1-2 – see last week’s Gospel. See notes to the Gospel for the Third Sunday.
Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb ..... “The term parabolē, which elsewhere will be translated ‘parable’, is here being used in the sense of mashal, or proverb, as in the LXX 1 Sam 10:12. Variations of the proverb itself are found in both Greek and Jewish writings; cf. e.g., ‘Physician, physician, heal thine own limp!’ in Genesis Rabbah 23:4.” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, The Liturgical Press, 1991, 80.)
Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted .... The word translated as “truly” here is literally “amen”. This manner of speaking is unique to Jesus. The word “amen” is generally used after another person has spoken to affirm what that other has said.
no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown .... “In Luke, Jesus’ discourse generates the rejection. Here we find the typical Lukan pattern of speech finding its immediate fulfillment in the narrative that follows, for the townspeople immediately do reject Jesus the prophet. The saying is found in slightly different form in the other Synoptists, John 4:44, and The Gospel of Thomas 31. .... the prophet who announces a message acceptable to the Lord is not acceptable.” (Ibid.)
“The story of Jesus’ rejection by his neighbors is of particular importance for grasping Luke’s literary and religious intentions. He has exercised considerable editorial and compositional control in adapting a conflict story found in the other Synoptists (Mark 6:1–6a; Matt 13:53–58). In their versions, the rebuff occurs after an extended period of ministry. Luke moves it to the very beginning of Jesus’ work with only the smallest of transition statements in 4:14–15 to provide a point of contrast. In addition to emphasizing the importance of the event by moving it to first place in the ministry, Luke transforms the account by the addition of the citation from Isaiah and the speech of Jesus. The passage is made into a programmatic prophecy which guides the reader’s understanding of the subsequent narrative.” (Op cit, 80-81.)
In baptism we are anointed ‘prophet’. (We are also anointed ‘priest’ and ‘king’. We must return to those in another reflection.) Being anointed ‘prophet’ is one way to name our identification with Jesus who is the Christ – ‘the anointed of God’.
The Jews of Jesus’ time awaited a Messiah – ‘the anointed one’. Two interdependent questions were raised by the presence of Jesus: Is Jesus the Messiah? What sort of Messiah is God going to send?
Saul, David and Solomon, and the descendants of Solomon who rose to power, were all ‘anointed’. The king thus became ‘the anointed of Yahweh’ (2 Samuel 19:22). Nathan (2 Samuel 7:12-16) focused the hope of Israel on the dynasty of David. Each king issuing from David became ‘the anointed one’ or Messiah.
It is not surprising therefore, that there were strong regal, political and even military overtones to the expectations of the people concerning the Messiah.
When the Messiah emerges as a carpenter from Nazareth, a gentle man preaching a message of peace, a loving man who keeps at arm’s length from political power, it is not surprising that there is some resistance, even contempt towards him. We might also reasonably wonder about the struggle Jesus had within himself and his own calling. The question of the people, “Who are you?” would have been echoed by the question in Jesus’ own heart, “Who am I?”
Jesus has obviously thought long and hard about the prophetic tradition and identifies with that tradition. He cites Isaiah: “The spirit of the Lord has been given to me ....” Then he cites Elijah, the greatest of all the prophets, who was sent to a widow in Sidon. Then Elisha, the disciple ‘anointed’ by Elijah, who was God’s instrument in healing the leper, Naaman.
The prophet embodies God’s word and God’s will. The prophet is a living memory among the people. Prophets are unpredictable therefore. They sometimes shock and annoy. The prophets sometimes deliberately go to people who do not fit the prevailing social template. The prophet’s behaviour can threaten and outrage those in charge. The prophets are often persecuted and even murdered.
You are baptized into Christ (see Romans 6:3). You are to be prophet. Thomas Merton summed up the essence of being prophet: “We exist solely for this, to be the place He has chosen for His presence, His manifestation in the world, His epiphany.” (Thomas Merton: Spiritual Master – The Essential Writings, edited by Lawrence S Cunningham, Paulist Press, 1992, 425.) And Mary’s disposition is that of prophet: “You see before you the Lord’s servant. Let it happen according to your word.” (Luke 1:39)
What does this mean for you?