Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
This Sunday continues the story of the reactions to Jesus’ first address in Nazareth when he stood up in the synagogue to read and interpret the Isaiah scroll in his own locality, as we saw last Sunday. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus manages to anger his neighbors who were amazed at his erudition and eloquence. They couldn’t believe that this rabbi was the son of Joseph, the carpenter. He spoke with such determination and authority.
Jesus announces the arrival of the Messianic era by applying the text of Isaiah to himself. The reaction is amazement. The people were astonished at the fact that a simple man like Jesus could proclaim the fulfillment of such a great message. They mistrust this man they know and even esteem, but in whom they fail to recognize the Messiah of their expectations.
Jesus, in turn, reacts by pointing out to them the futility of such an attitude. When the heart is not pure and the mind yields to prejudice, no sign, not even a miracle, has any chance to be properly understood. Jesus presents himself as a prophet and illustrates the universal thrust of his mission by citing the miracles of Elijah and Elisha, which benefited pagans. The Good News rejected by the Jews will be offered to the Gentiles. The conclusion of the synagogue service anticipates the incredulity of the Jews and the mission to the Gentiles. The synagogue speech is in effect Jesus’ inaugural address.
The original admiration of the audience now turns to indignation. Many in the audience did not want to hear that God would inaugurate a new era, with a prophetic message that was for both Jew and Gentile. They are jealous because Jesus has not performed miracles in his own hometown, but has chosen to do such things elsewhere. The neighborhood is in an uproar. Jesus leaves and the friends now become hostile. But Jesus’ hour has not yet arrived; hence Jesus simply walks through their midst. As with Jeremiah, God would not allow the opposition to get the upper hand.
The episode in today’s Gospel suggests some practical questions. Are we not inclined to enclose someone in the scheme we have previously formed about him? I know such a person!, we say in a derogatory manner. But this very remark goes to prove precisely that we don’t know him/her. How different the knowledge God has of each of us!. In his eyes, we are always capable of improvement and he helps us to achieve it. Is it not proper, then, that we try our best to look at others the way God looks at them?
The people of Nazareth believed in God and expected the Messiah. But their prejudice blinded them in the presence of Jesus, who was the fulfillment of their faith and hope. Are we on guard against prejudice, that might harm the progress in our faith and spiritual growth?