By Gary Nelson
“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’” (Luke 4:16-21, NIV).
The people of Nazareth didn’t have a clue. And they knew Jesus intimately. This was where he grew up. Rubbed shoulders with all of them. Even attended the same synagogue. Surely they should have been the ones who “got it.”
Instead they are surprised. So surprised in fact, that they get angry. When you read on in the passage, they threaten to throw Jesus over the cliff. Clearly his audacious statement, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing,” threatened them. Preachers have discussed the idea that Jesus’ listeners simply didn’t like the idea of one of their own taking on this kind of mantle.
That may be true. But I think it was much more than that. Much deeper and more threatening than simply a local guy calling attention to himself.
This reading by Jesus of the familiar passage from Isaiah was a declaration of intent. Maybe his followers had wanted this promised Messiah to be for them – for their issues and their concerns. Suddenly, the focus pivots. Jesus captures the room with a dramatic reading and a quietly confident act of sitting down. I love that line, “the eyes of everyone in the room were fastened on him.”
Their gaze was locked in. They saw something they had never seen before. This Messiah, this Jesus, came for the ‘other,’ not for them. Oh I realize that he came for them as well, but we never see ourselves as the ‘other’ do we? The poor who need good news in what appears to be hopeless times. The prisoners who need a proclamation of emancipation from the chains and cages of their captivity. And how about those blind and oppressed, they are the ‘others’ that we tend not to identify with. The ‘such as these’ people that Jesus identifies with and came for.
Maybe that is what frightened them. This Jesus Messiah thing was going to be way more revolutionary than they originally thought. They hoped a Messiah would come to reestablish the status quo. Make it the ‘things as they were’ times. Instead Jesus says he is here for the other. When he sits down he is giving them a choice.
He is giving us a choice as well. Our way or His way where the other matters more than ourselves.
Frankly everything else flows from that choice and they knew it. No wonder they wanted to throw him over a cliff.