To defend the clan, or the community, was equivalent to defending the Covenant with God.
Sunday, February 3, 2019
Jesus connects the Bible
The people of Nazareth do not like Jesus and drive Him away
1. OPENING PRAYER
Jesus, send Your Spirit to help us to read the scriptures with the same mind that You read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the bible, You helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events
of Your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create silence in us so that we may listen to Your voice in Creation and in the scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May Your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, may experience the force of Your resurrection and witness to others that You are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of You, Jesus, Son of Mary, who revealed the Father to us and sent us Your Spirit. Amen.
a) A key to the reading:
On the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time, the Liturgy presents us with the conflict that arose between Jesus and the people of Nazareth. This happens on a Saturday during the celebration of the Word in the synagogue, after Jesus reads a text from the prophet Isaiah. Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah, presenting His plan of action, and immediately adds a very brief comment. At first, they are all amazed and happy. But when they realize the significance of Jesus’ plan concerning their lives, they rebel and want to kill Him.
These kinds of conflicts exist today. We accept others as long as they act in conformity with our ideas, but when they decide to welcome into the community people whom we exclude, then we are in conflict. This is what happened in Nazareth.
This Sunday’s Gospel begins with verse 21, a brief comment made by Jesus. We take the liberty to include in the comment the preceding verses 16-20. This allows us to read the text from Isaiah quoted by Jesus and to better understand the conflict. As we read, it is good for us to note two things: “How does Jesus actualize the text of Isaiah? What reactions does this actualization of the text of Isaiah produce in the people?”
b) A division of the text to help with the reading:
Luke 4:16: Jesus arrives in Nazareth and takes part in the community meeting.
Luke 4:17-19: Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah.
Luke 4:20-21: Jesus connects the Bible to life before an attentive public.
Luke 4:22: The contradictory reactions of the public.
Luke 4:23-24: Jesus criticizes the people’s reaction.
Luke 4:25-27: Jesus sheds light on the bible, quoting Elijah and Elisha.
Luke 4:28-30: The furious reaction of the people, who want to kill Jesus.
He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the Sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord." Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.
Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying: "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, "Isn't this the son of Joseph?" He said to them, "Surely you will quote me this proverb, 'Physician, cure yourself,' and say, 'Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.'" And he said, "Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.
3. A MOMENT OF PRAYERFUL SILENCE
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. SOME QUESTIONS
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What pleased or struck you most in the text? Why?
b) On what day, where, how, and through whom does Jesus present His plan?
c) What is the content of Jesus’ plan? Who are the excluded He wants to welcome?
d) How does Jesus actualize Isaiah’s text?
e) How do the people react? Why?
f) Could Jesus’ plan of action also be ours? Who are the excluded that we should welcome into our community today?
5. FOR THOSE WHO WISH TO GO DEEPER INTO THE TEXT
a) The historical context so as to locate the text:
In ancient Israel, the large family or clan, or community, was the basis of social life. It provided protection to families and people, it guaranteed possession of the land, it was the principal vehicle of tradition, and a guardian of the people’s identity. It was a concrete way of incarnating the love of God in the love of neighbor. To defend the clan, or the community, was equivalent to defending the Covenant with God.
In Jesus’ days, a double slavery marked people’s lives and contributed to the disintegration of the community: (i) the slavery of the politics of Herod Antipas’ government (4 BC to 39 AD) and (ii) the slavery of the official religion. Because of the exploitation and repression of Herod Antipas’ politics, supported by the Roman Empire, many people had no fixed home and were excluded and unemployed (Lk 14:21; Mt 20:3,5-6).
The community was weakened. Families and individuals had no help, no defence. The official religion, maintained by the religious authorities of the time, instead of strengthening the community so that it could welcome the excluded, added to this slavery. God’s Law was used to legitimize the exclusion or marginalization of many people: women, children, Samaritans, foreigners, lepers, the possessed, publicans, the sick, the mutilated, paraplegics. It was the opposite of the fraternity God wanted for all! Thus, the political and economic situation and the religious ideology all conspired to weaken the local community and prevented the manifestation of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus reacts to this situation of His people and presents a plan of action that will change it. Jesus’ experience of God as the Father of love, gives Him the ability to evaluate reality and to see what was wrong with the lives of His people.
b) A commentary on the text:
Luke 4:16: Jesus
arrives in Nazareth and takes part in the community meeting.
Moved by the Holy Spirit, Jesus goes to Galilee and begins to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God (Lk 4:14). He goes to villages teaching in synagogues and finally arrives in Nazareth. He goes back to the community of His childhood for thirty years where He had taken part in the weekly meetings. On the Saturday after His arrival, Jesus goes to the synagogue to take part in the celebration as usual and gets up to read.
Luke 4:17-19: Jesus reads a passage from the prophet Isaiah.
In those days, there were two readings during the Saturday celebrations. The first dealt with the Law of God, was taken from the Pentateuch and was fixed. The second was taken from the historical or prophetical books, and was chosen by the reader. The reader could choose. Jesus chose the text from Isaiah that presents a summary of the mission of the Servant of God, and that reflected the situation of the people of Galilee at the time. In the name of God, Jesus takes up His position in defence of the life of His people, takes on His mission as Servant of God, and, using Isaiah’s words, proclaims before all, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring the good news to the afflicted. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim a year of favour from the Lord" (Isa 61:1-2). He takes up an ancient tradition of the prophets and proclaims “a year of favour from the Lord”. This expression was equivalent to proclaiming a jubilee year, so Jesus invites the people of His town to begin anew, to rewrite history at its very roots (Deut 15:1-11; Lev 25:8-17).
Luke 4:20-21: Jesus connects the Bible to life before an attentive
When He had finished reading, Jesus gave the book back to the servant and sat down. Jesus is not yet the coordinator of the community. He is a lay person and as such takes part in the celebration like all the others. He had been away from the community for many weeks, had then joined John the Baptist’s movement and was baptized by John in the Jordan (Lk 3:21-22). Moreover, He had spent more than forty days in the desert, reflecting on His mission (Lk 4:1-2). The Saturday after His return to the community, Jesus is invited to read. All are attentive and curious: “What will He say?” Jesus’ comment is very brief indeed. He actualizes the text, connects it with the people’s lives, saying, “This text is being fulfilled today even as you are listening.”
Luke 4:22: The contradictory
reactions of the people.
The people’s reaction is ambivalent. At first their attitude is one of attention, wonder and acclamation. Then, immediately, there is a negative reaction. They say, “This is Joseph’s son, surely!” Why are they scandalized? Because Jesus speaks of welcoming the poor, the blind, prisoners and the oppressed. They do not accept His proposal. And so, just when Jesus presents His project to welcome the excluded, He Himself is excluded!
But there is another motive too. It is important to note the details of the quotations that Jesus uses from the Old Testament. In the commentary on Luke 3:4-6 on the second Sunday of Advent, Luke gives a longer quotation from Isaiah to show that the opening to gentiles had already been foreseen by the prophets. Here we have something like this. Jesus quotes the text from Isaiah up to the point where it says "to proclaim a year of favor from the Lord", and leaves out the rest of the sentence that says "and a day of vindication by our God, to comfort all who mourn" (Is 61:2b). The people of Nazareth challenge the fact that Jesus left out the part on vindication. They wanted the day of the coming of the Kingdom to be a day of vindication against the oppressors of the people. Thus those who mourned would have regained their rights. But if that were so, then the advent, the coming of the Kingdom, would not have changed an unjust system. Jesus rejects this way of thinking. He rejects vengeance. His experience of God, Father, helped Him better understand the exact meaning of the prophecies. His reaction, unlike that of the people of Nazareth, shows us that the old image of God as a severe and vengeful judge was stronger than the Good News of God, a loving Father who welcomes those excluded.
Luke 4:23-24: Jesus criticizes the people’s reaction.
Jesus interprets the people’s reaction and considers it a form of envy: “Physician, heal yourself. Whatever things we have heard of as done in Capernaum, do here, also in your own country!” Jesus was well know throughout Galilee (Lk 4:14) and the people of Nazareth were not pleased that Jesus, a son of their land, worked good things in other peoples’ lands and not in His own. But there is a deeper reason for the reaction. Even if Jesus had worked in Nazareth the things He had worked in Capernaum, they would still not have believed in Him. They knew Jesus. “Who is He to teach us? Is He not Joseph’s son?” (Lk 4:22). “Is He not the carpenter?” (cf Mk 6:3-4) Today this happens so often: when a lay person preaches in church, many will not accept that. They leave and say, “He or she is like us: he or she knows nothing!” They cannot believe that God can speak through the most ordinary people. Mark adds that Jesus is hurt by His people’s unbelief (Mk 6).
Luke 4:23-27: Jesus sheds light on the Bible quoting Elijah and Elisha.
In order to confirm that His mission is really that of welcoming the excluded, Jesus uses two well known passages of the bible, the story of Elijah and that of Elisha. Both reflect the closed mentality of the people of Nazareth and criticize them. In Elijah’s time there were many widows in Israel, but Elijah was sent to a foreign widow from Zarephath (1 Kings 17:7-16). In Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but Elisha was sent to a foreigner from Syria (2 Kings 5:14). Again we see Luke’s concern to show that openness towards pagans came from Jesus Himself. Jesus faced the same difficulties that the communities in Luke’s time faced.
Luke 4:28-30: The
furious reaction of the people who want to kill Jesus.
The mention of these two passages from the Bible produces greater anger in the people. The community of Nazareth even wants to kill Jesus. He remains calm. Other people’s anger will not distract Him from His purpose. Luke shows how difficult it is to overcome a mentality of privilege and of closure towards others. The same thing happens today. Many of us Catholics grow up with a mentality that leads us to believe that we are better than others and that the others must become like us in order to be saved. Jesus never thought this way.
c) Further information:
The meaning of a jubilee year:
In 2000, Pope John Paul II invited Catholics to celebrate the jubilee. Celebrating important dates is part of life. This allows us to rediscover and revive our initial enthusiasm. In the bible, “the Jubilee Year” was an important law. At first, it was decreed that every seventh year, sold or leased lands were to return to the clan of origin. Everyone was to be able to go back to his property. This prevented the formation of stagnant funds and guaranteed a living for families. During a Jubilee Year lands were to be sold back, slaves were to be redeemed and debts cancelled (cf. Deut 15:1-18). The celebration of a Jubilee Year every seven years was not easy (cf Jeremiah 34:8-16). After the exile began the custom of celebrating every fifty years, that is, every seven times seven years (Lev 25:8-17). The purpose of a Jubilee Year was, and still is, to re-affirm the rights of the poor, welcome the excluded, and reintegrate them into society. The jubilee was a legal instrument to go back to the deep sense of the Law of God. It was an occasion to take stock of the course travelled, to discover and correct errors and to begin everything anew. Jesus begins His preaching by proclaiming a new jubilee, a “Year of favor from the Lord”.
6. PRAYING WITH PSALM 72 (71)
“He will free the poor who cry!”
God, endow the king with Your own fair judgement,
the Son of the king with Your own saving justice,
that He may rule your people with justice,
and Your poor with fair judgment.
Mountains and hills,
bring peace to the people!
With justice He will judge the poor of the people;
He will save the children of the needy and crush their oppressors.
In the sight of the sun and the moon He will endure, age after age.
He will come down like rain on mown grass,
like showers moistening the land.
In His days uprightness shall flourish,
and peace in plenty till the moon is no more.
His empire shall stretch from sea to sea,
from the river to the limits of the earth.
The Beast will cower before Him,
His enemies lick the dust;
the kings of Tarshish and the islands will pay Him tribute.
The kings of Sheba and Saba will offer gifts;
all kings will do Him homage,
all nations become His servants.
For He rescues the needy who call to Him,
and the poor who have no one to help.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the needy from death.
From oppression and violence He redeems their lives,
their blood is precious in His sight.
Long may He live; may the gold of Sheba be given Him!
Prayer will be offered for Him constantly,
and blessings invoked on Him all day.
May wheat abound in the land,
waving on the heights of the hills,
like Lebanon with its fruits and flowers at their best,
like the grasses of the earth.
His name be blessed for ever,
and endure in the sight of the sun.
In Him shall be blessed every race in the world,
and all nations call Him blessed.
Blessed be Yahweh,
the God of Israel,
who alone works wonders;
blessed for ever His glorious name.
May the whole world be filled with His glory!
7. FINAL PRAYER
Lord Jesus, we thank You for the Word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May Your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice what Your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, Your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.