Then Jesus began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" He said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, 'Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'" And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
This is an incident in Jesus’ life which occurred in his native town, Nazareth. According to the gospel narrative he returned to Galilee after his baptism by John the Baptist at the Jordan river. Being in Nazareth on the Sabbath day he went to the local synagogue and was asked to read a lesson from the scroll of the prophets. He chose a messianic passage from the prophet Isaiah (Is. 61:1-2) and then went on to explain it.
The people in the synagogue understood what he meant in his explanation. He first cited the miracle worked by Elijah to feed a Gentile widow and the healing miracle to a Syrian leper in 1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 5 respectively. They saw both events cited as an insult to them because they believed that they were the chosen people and they alone had a claim to the Messiah. Because of their lack of faith, as they questioned was not he was this Joseph’s son, they rejected him.
This rejection of Jesus by his own town folk must have grieved him. However, this was only the beginning of similar rejections. Their attempt to murder him was an indication of what was yet to come. It was because that the Messiah they were looking for was a political leader who would make Israel a major political power not only among the nations but above the nations. Nearly all the messianic prophecies had references to the universality of the messianic kingdom, but this was interpreted in a political and worldly sense. Their interest in things spiritual was then at very low ebb and therefore the message of Jesus had little interest for them. They did not want a spiritual kingdom.
For more than 1700 years they had been God’s Chosen People, and they were proud of their superiority over the sinful Gentiles who did not know the true God. Their very pride was their undoing. The Gentiles were God’s children too, and they also were to share in the new kingdom which the Messiah would establish, but the very thought of this was abhorrent to the vast majority of the Jews.
In spite of all their rejections and opposition, Jesus spent his public life amongst them. He gave them the first offer of entering the new kingdom. They could still continue to be God’s Chosen People together with and alongside the other nations of the earth. However, they refused. And their refusal went to far as to call I the aid of the hated Gentile to crucify the One – their own fellow Jew -- who had come to bring the message of the true kingdom and the offer of being its first citizens.
There were exceptions, of course. Christ found his Church, the new kingdom of God on the Apostles, who were Jews, and through their noble sacrifices and efforts, the kingdom spread to all the Gentile nations of the earth. Because of their sacrifices, we are Christians, members of Christ’s kingdom on earth and heirs to his eternal kingdom in heaven.
Through our Christian teaching we have learned that our life on this earth is but a period of preparation, a period during which we can earn the true life as citizens of his eternal kingdom. How often do we like the Jews of Jesus’ day, forget this and bend all our efforts to building for ourselves a kingdom of power or wealth in this world, a kingdom which we will have to leave so soon?
The questions for us today are: Am I one of those who rejected Jesus in the synagogue? Do I really love Christ or, to put it in a more personal way, do I really love myself? If I do, I will not risk losing my place in the eternal kingdom for the sake of some paltry pleasure or gaining this present life which will end for me so soon. Amen.