31 January 2016

Luke 4:21-30

“And Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town.’” (v. 24)

Psalm: Psalm 71


I wonder how many preachers can remember how the congregation responded to their very first sermon? This passage tells what happens when Jesus preaches for the first time in his home town synagogue in Nazareth, as he begins his public ministry after his time of testing in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13).

At first all goes well. Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1-2), a key messianic text which speaks of how the Spirit of the Lord is upon his anointed one. Jesus then continues by saying that "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (v. 21). But at this point some start to be worried; while impressed, 'amazed' even by the gracious words coming from his mouth, they ask "Is not this Joseph's son?" - with the implicit criticism 'and just who does he think he is?' (v. 22).

Jesus picks up on this by saying that "No prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown". But he also anticipates the earlier challenge about his ability (or inability) to do in Nazareth the deeds he is reported to have done in Capernaum (verse 23). He draws parallels with the experience of the prophets Elijah and Elisha, reminding his hearers how they helped and healed those who were not part of the household of Israel; a widow at Zarephath in Sidon and the Syrian general Naaman (verses 26-27). However this is more that his audience can stand. They are so enraged that they drive him out of the town and are moved to throw him off a cliff (verses 28-29) - except that as the Gospel writer puts it mysteriously, "he passed through the midst of them and went on his way" (v. 30).

It's a challenging story, especially for those called to preach or lead worship. But it also introduces us to two key themes which will run throughout Jesus' ministry:

  • an element of opposition to Jesus's teaching from the start, even or perhaps especially among his own people.
  • recognition that his ministry is intended not just for the people of Israel but for a much wider audience (as the Acts of the Apostles will bear witness.)

To Ponder

  • Have you ever felt your faith being challenged? If so, how did you respond?
  • Do you think there is a place for challenging people in worship? And how might this be best done?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Wigley

Stephen Wigley is a Methodist minister currently serving as chair of the Wales Synod. He is married to Jenny, a priest in the Church in Wales, and they have two teenage sons, David and Andrew.