‘Cliffhanger’ – Monday, 22nd Week in ordinary time – Lk 4:16-30
We begin today the Gospel of Luke and will continue meditating on this Gospel till the end of this year’s liturgical cycle. The author of this Gospel is Luke who is also the author of Acts of the Apostles. He hailed from Syrian Antioch and we know that he was a physician, a master of the Greek language and a companion or collaborator of St Paul. Luke wrote this Gospel sometime between the years 80-85 AD.
Writing in pluralistic Syrian Antioch, he addresses a predominantly Gentile audience and presents a compassionate Jesus whose mission is inclusive and not exclusive. Jesus has a preferential option for the poor, the lost and sinners whom he restores to God. Luke uses the Gospel of Mark as his primary source to tell the narrative of the ‘Lucan Jesus’.
Luke presents Jesus as one who walks the talk. Right at the outset of His Galilean ministry, Jesus announces his mission for the poor and those on the fringes, especially the Gentiles. It is in His hometown of Nazareth that Jesus declares publically His pastoral mission. There are six incidences in Luke’s Gospel that has Jesus actively involved on the Sabbath.
The Sabbath service was not a triennial cycle of readings as we have them in Church today nor was it led by the ‘ministerial priesthood ‘as we have it today. The reading of today tells us in verse 23 that the people of Nazareth were aware of the things that Jesus had done in Capernaum and in a way acknowledge Him as a Rabbi and so they honour him by allowing him to read the scriptures and preach to them.
They chose the book but He chose the verse and while they seemed to have no problem with the choice of text they had a problem with his interpretation of it. In choosing a text that referred to the Jubilee year held once in fifty years, he announces a time of ‘good news for the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind and freedom for the oppressed.’
For Jesus the good news is not to the ‘metaphorically poor’ as ‘Israel in need’ but rather for the economically, socially and physically unfortunate. Jesus makes clear His manifesto and launches his mission in a synagogue in small time Nazareth. This was not some big ticket item but then again he never came to be a big ticket preacher; even though He was the Messiah.
And then comes the problematic verse 22 which reads, “ all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth” yet they follow this by saying, “ is this not Joseph’s son which triggers Jesus into a confrontational mode. So why then this sudden switch from hospitality to hostility?
The issue is in the translation. The text should have translated as “all spoke well of him yet were astonished at the words of salvation which came from His mouth” for He was not just the son of Joseph but he was the Son of God. Here in lies the answer; this was their local boy who had worked miracles in Capernaum and yet when he speaks the words of salvation as the Son of God the message becomes a bitter pill.
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, Luke has not only laid out Jesus’ preferential ministerial option for the poor but now explicitly states His option for the Gentiles. Far from conciliating his audience, Jesus antagonizes them. In defending his ‘message of salvation’ Jesus places two rather uncomfortable examples of truth from scripture to support His inclusive message; episodes found in 1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 5 . Elijah the great prophet was sent to no home in Israel but to a foreigner, a widow of Zarephath in Sidon during the great famine that ravaged the land for six months. And again, the prophet Elisha was not sent to heal any leper in Israel, even though there were many but he was sent to a foreigner, Naaman the Syrian.
When faced with the uncomfortable truth that God was not an exclusive God for the Israelites but had also come to ‘set free’ their hated enemies, the townsfolk of Jesus set out to kill Him. Often God’s news is not the ‘good news’ we want to hear.
The Lucan Jesus is no pushover or a crowd pleasure. He does not reinterpret the scriptures to make his audience feel comfortable but boldly challenges them. The result is a ‘cliff-hanger’, literally, for they drive him out of town that they might hurl him off the cliff.
Fr Warner D’Souza
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