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For two Sunday’s we have been reading the long account from St. Luke’s gospel of Jesus’ return to Nazareth, his hometown, as he begins his ministry in Galilee. I mentioned last week Luke’s interest in Jesus’ early life. More than any other evangelist, he writes about Jesus early years.
The four gospels take a dim view of Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus Christ. Early in his gospel, John says that Philip, one of Jesus’ first disciples, invited Nathaniel to meet “Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nathaniel replies. (John 1,46).
The gospels of Mathew and Mark recall the sad rejection of Jesus by his hometown after his baptism by John the Baptist. Matthew places it after Jesus has spoken to a large crowd in parables. Then, he goes to Nazareth and speaks in the synagogue to his own townspeople, who are at first astonished at his wisdom, but they wonder where did “the carpenter’s son” get all this. They know his mother and his family, and they reject him. (Matthew 13,54-58)
Mark’s gospel puts the event after Jesus has raised a little girl from the dead. Going to Nazareth with his disciples, he’s greeted in the synagogue with astonishment because of his wisdom; they’ve heard of his mighty deeds, but then they ask where did this “carpenter” get all of this? He’s “Mary’s son” and they know his family. Jesus “was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6,1-5)
In Luke’s gospel Jesus goes into the synagogue at Nazareth almost immediately after his baptism and reads from the Prophet Isaiah the passage: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; He has anointed me…” Jesus says he’s fulfilling the words of the prophet. He’s the Messiah.
In the reading today the people of Nazareth not only reject him but try to put him to death. They are people who have known him all his life, we presume even members of his family are among them.
Here is a concrete example of what’s said in another gospel: “He came to his own and his own received him not.” Of course, their reaction surprises us. How could they be so blind? How could they not see?
Our first reading today may offer some insight into their reaction. It’s about the Prophet Jeremiah who also met opposition from his own people and was put to death for his claims. Maybe he can help us understand what happened at Nazareth?
The prophet speaks for God. “Stand up and tell them what I command you,” God says to Jeremiah, “I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” But when God first calls him, Jeremiah shrinks from the task. ” Don’t send me, I’m just a child.” They know me too well; I
I don’t have the status, the aura of a prophet.
That seems to be what happened at Nazareth. They knew Jesus too well. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” They doubt, they want more proof. “The prophet is honored, except in his native place,” Jesus says,amazed at their unbelief.
The prophet speaks for God, but what God says through the prophet may not be to our liking. Sometimes it seems too good to be true. We’re cynical people. We think like human beings, not like God. Would God promise us a life beyond death, beyond suffering, beyond disappointment, beyond failure. Could God be the carpenter’s son? Could it be true,as the Letter to the Hebrews says, “In times past, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets,but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son.” (Hebrews 1, 1-2) Could God so love the world that he would send his Son to bring us life?
Let’s not be too harsh with the people of Nazareth. When we are looking at them, we are looking at ourselves.
Let’s ask for faith, faith like Mary his mother had. Let’s ask that we listen to his words and believe in his promises. Let’s ask that we follow Jesus Christ in the mysteries of his life, death and resurrection, till he reveal himself to us and we share in his glory. Help us, Lord, to believe in you.