What Got Jesus into Trouble?

by Rev. Dr. Randy Coleman

Luke 4:14-30

 “I assure you that no prophet is welcome in his home town” (v. 24).  As I was reading this story the other day and came across these well-known words of Jesus in Luke chapter four, I found something that I had never seen before and so I share it with you now.  The story begins with the good news about Jesus spreading rapidly throughout the whole countryside.  He taught in their synagogues and received praise from everyone (v. 14, 15).  Jesus then returns to Nazareth “where he had been raised” (v. 16).  This detail is an important aspect of the story, as we will see later.

On the Sabbath, Jesus goes to the synagogue and stands up to read from the prophet Isaiah (61:1-2).

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.  He has sent me to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to liberate the oppressed, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (v. 18, 19).

When finished reading, Jesus rolls up the scroll, sits down, and says to the people: “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it” (v. 21).  In one brief sentence, Jesus claims to be the long-awaited Messiah.  He is the one that Isaiah was speaking of.  This could be like a young man standing up in his graduation ceremony, declaring to be the next NBA star.  Even if he was a dedicated athlete, people still might question his daring proclamation.

Do the people believe Jesus?  The people do begin to speak highly of him, or so it seems.  They rave about his gracious words and then ask, “Is this Joseph’s son” (v. 22)?  Now they have lowered him back down to human status.  “We know where you are from, Jesus,” they are saying.  Thus, the implication is that he cannot really be the Messiah.  The home town folk at the graduation ceremony smirk somewhat because the young man foolishly claims to be the next NBA star.  “We’ll see,” they respond.

Jesus, fully discerning their intent, tells them how they will respond.  One day they will say to him, “Doctor, heal yourself.  Do here in your hometown what we’ve heard you did in Capernaum.”  Then he goes on to make that statement about a prophet not being welcome in his hometown (v. 23, 24).  To illustrate this, Jesus relates two stories from Israelite history about prophets who were not accepted in their home towns.  In the first story, the prophet Elijah was unable to help the widows in Israel during the three-and-a-half-year drought.  He was sent to none of them, but only to a widow in the city of Zarephath in the region of Sidon.  The second story concerns the prophet Elisha, Elijah’s successor.  In his time, there were many persons with skin diseases in Israel, but none of them were cleansed, only Naaman, the Syrian.

At this point, notice how quickly the people turn from raving about Jesus (v. 22) to attacking him (v. 28).  In a short time, the crowds’ gracious words turn to anger.  They stand up in condemnation of him and run him out of town.  They lead him to the crest of a hill and attempt to throw him off.  But Jesus passes through the crowd unhurt and moves on his way.  Make no doubt about it, they want to kill Jesus!  Wow, what a reaction!  Why did the people become so angry?  Why did they so quickly turn against their home town hero?  Was it something like Lebron James declaring his move from Cleveland to Miami?  In some ways, perhaps.

Part of the reason for their arousal to anger was simply unbelief in their hometown hero. Jesus clearly indicates this when he says that a prophet is not accepted in his home town.  And his two stories illustrate that.  But does this account for their extreme anger?  Is this why they want to put him to death?  I don’t think so.  Apathy or even unbelief do not normally get people killed.

Here is what I saw for the first time in this story.  The protagonists of Jesus’ stories are foreigners, living in foreign cities. The widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon lived north of Israel along the Mediterranean coast.  Sidon and Tyre were two prosperous Phoenician or Canaanite cities often referred to as cities receiving God’s judgment (Jer. 25:22; 27:3).  The Israelites would not have looked favorably on anyone from this area.  In the second story Naaman was a Syrian, and a foreign leader at that.  Both stories show care for foreigners, but no help for Israelites.  Jesus himself has done miracles in other places, but not here in Nazareth.  The Messiah was supposed to come and care for Israel and lead them out of the oppressive rule of Rome.  But this “would-be” home town hero is talking about helping foreigners and not Israelites.  Now we may have a case of leaving Cleveland and going to Miami on our hands.  Or better yet, it’s more like the hometown hero helping the Russians or caring for undocumented, illegal aliens in our country.  The big underlying problem that gets Jesus in trouble is called nationalism.  It’s good to be patriotic, but not nationalistic, where everything is first and foremost about us and our country; where we are superior to all others.

We certainly see this problem in our country today.  Donald Trump was elected on the slogan, “Make America Great Again.”  The Israelites in Jesus’ day were living by and expecting their Messiah to “Make Israel Great Again.” The people are ready to push Jesus off the cliff because he claimed to be their Messiah, their national hero.  But this man, Joseph’s son, is a far cry from a national hero.  How dare he claim to be their Messiah and not help them become great again!  How dare he talk about helping foreigners out and not help his own people!

That’s why they almost killed him.  That’s why another mob did have him killed on another day at the end of his life.  Jesus had claimed to be the King of the Jews, but had refused to help them politically.  That is the ugly head of nationalism.

So pray with me today, “Oh, Lord, please purge our country and our churches from the sin of nationalism.  Please cleanse me. Amen.”

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