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Gospel Reflections » International

In the Synagogue in Nazareth

February 3, 2013

Luke begins his narration of Jesus’s ministry with two incidents: the first, is his appearance in the synagogue at Nazareth; the second, a typical day at Capernaeum, the lakeside town where Jesus often worked.

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: God’s spirit is upon him. His recent baptism is the event which certifies this. His mission is to bring the good news of God’s mercy to the poor, to those in prison, to the broken-hearted, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

This last term, ‘the year of the Lord’s favour’ is what the Jewish Law called a ‘jubilee year’. 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 Jesus’s 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 “ordinary chap, just one of us” who’s 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: it’s not blood and kinship which are important in the Kingdom of God, but listening to God’s word and placing your trust in him who pro-claims it. As Luke adds: “He could work no miracle there because of their lack of faith.”

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