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Fr. Michael Kelly SJ
In the Synagogue in Nazareth
- September 3, 2012
The Sabbath service at a synagogue consisted of prayers, readings, a homily and blessings. Jesus, as a young and eloquent rabbi, is invited to lead the Sabbath prayer on his first visit back to his hometown. He opens the scroll to the text of Isaiah (chapter 61, vv.1-2) which speaks of the mission of the Servant of Yahweh, and reads it aloud.
Jesus applies this text to himself: Godâs spirit is upon him. His recent baptism is the event which certifies this. His mission is to bring the good news of Godâs mercy to the poor, to those in prison, to the broken-hearted, and to proclaim the year of the Lordâs favour.
This last term, âthe year of the Lordâs favourâ is what the Jewish Law called a âjubilee yearâ. Every seventh year debts were wiped out and all possessions returned to their original owner. It was a year of grace, to be celebrated everywhere. It signified the presence of the Messiah in the midst of his people.
On hearing those words of Scripture, and their interpretation by Jesus, the whole synagogue was moved to admiration, astonished both by Jesusâs eloquence and by his commanding presence. His first visit was a roaring success.
But there are two further visits of Jesus to his hometown which follow in this same passage.
If his first visit was successful, subsequently relations soured between him and the townsfolk. Were his people just a bit jealous of this âordinary chap, just one of usâ whoâs now become so famous? Did they demand miraculous cures as of right, refusing the while to believe in him? Did his preaching further enrage them? At some later stage it certainly seemed that his own people were even prepared to kill him for being different.
Jesus will say again and again: itâs not blood and kinship which are important in the Kingdom of God, but listening to Godâs word and placing your trust in him who pro-claims it. As Luke adds: âHe could work no miracle there because of their lack of faith.â