Who do people think Jesus is? Or, to narrow the question a little bit, who do the people of Nazareth in today’s reading think Jesus is (Luke 4:16-30)? He grew up there; they know him and his parents. He’s respected enough to be allowed to read in the synagogue.
So, he returns to his hometown after he’s been doing countless miracles around the countryside and goes into the synagogue on Saturday to read from the scroll of Isaiah. The selection he reads is from Isaiah 62 where the prophet, speaking in the words of the Christ, says: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then, Jesus did the equivalent of the modern mic drop. He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, sat down, and then once everyone was rapt with anticipation, he said: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
But, do they get what he’s saying? He’s just read from Isaiah where Isaiah is speaking in the voice of the Christ who was coming into the world. And Jesus is the Christ; he’s come to fulfill the Scriptures, including this one from Isaiah. He’s the one Isaiah anticipated; the one they had been waiting for. He’s come to bestow the Lord’s favor upon sinners and restore them.
Yet the people don’t really understand the importance of what he’s saying. They all speak well of him, sure. And they seem a little confused by him, saying, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” Indeed, many people in our own time speak well of Jesus and seem a little confused by him while simultaneously not understanding that he is the Christ. “Oh, what a nice young man, bringing good news, liberty, healing, and the Lord’s blessings.” “He comes speaking such nice platitudes.”
And yet, these are not platitudes that Jesus is speaking. No, Jesus really means what he says: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He is the promised Christ; he’s here now; he’s come to fulfill what the Spirit had spoken of through the prophets. He’s the one whom Isaiah and all the other prophets foretold. He’s God in the flesh, come with his Gospel – the Good News – that he is freeing us from captivity to sin, death, and the devil; enlightening us, opening our eyes to know God; giving us the Lord’s favor, his grace.
Yet, many people do not see this. To them, Jesus is just a nice young man, maybe a prophet even, speaking nice-sounding things, not the very Lord God in the flesh, anointed as the Christ to bring us salvation. And yet, once Jesus begins to challenge our thinking, we turn on him. We change from viewing him as the nice young man, “Joseph’s son,” to viewing him as the one who insults our own sense of pride and entitlement. You see it in the text also.
Jesus anticipates that they will want to see him do miracles in Nazareth, like they had heard he had done in Capernaum. But, he says that “no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.” It’s like your parents; you’re always a kid in their eyes. Similar with Jesus; he’ll always be “Joseph’s son” in the eyes of the people of Nazareth and they can’t see past that to realize that he’s actually God’s Son.
But, what really riles the people up is Jesus’ comparison of them to the people of Israel in the days of Elijah and Elisha. Those days were not glory days for Israel. The people were faithless and had rejected God. And so Elijah and Elisha performed their miracles among those who were not of Israel. Elijah went to Sidon to a gentile woman; Elisha healed Naaman, the general of Syria. The implication is that these people were ready to receive the Lord, while the people of Israel had rejected him. And now those outside Nazareth are ready to receive Jesus, while the people of Nazareth will reject him for who he claims to be. He is the Lord, but they don’t see that.
Same in our world today. Many people will happily listen to sayings of Jesus, or the wisdom of Jesus, or how Jesus can help our personal relationships and our businesses. But, once Jesus starts making claims on their faith, to have them see him not just as “Joseph’s son,” but rather the Lord in the flesh born of the virgin Mary, they will lash out at him, and his people.
And it takes a while to bring people out of this rejection and into faith in Jesus. And it’s only God’s Word which can do this. His Law brings us to repentance as we realize that we have no claim on God; we are condemned sinners before Him. Then, the Good News of the Lord’s favor which Jesus brings can do its work. He turns us around and graces us with His favor and brings us to faith so that we receive the liberty from sin, death, and the devil which he brings as he makes us part his body, the Church.
And every member of the body is important, as St. Paul points out in 1 Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). Each has his or her role to play, and the body is incomplete without every member. Some may have arrived late or early, some may have drifted and come back, and some may have lesser or greater talents; however, all are needed for a healthy body. And all are valuable to the Lord, because it is he who has brought us together as his body, his bride, the Church.
Just as husband and wife join together in marriage and become one flesh, so too have we – as the Church – been joined to the Lord and become one body. So, as part of this one body there are no longer earthly divisions between us. All nations are brought into this body to become part of God’s nation, the Church. The lines that used to divide us have been erased – lines of ethnicity, language, social and economic standing – these are no more, because we have all been baptized into the same body of Christ.
And each member of the body is important and has a role to play. And it’s not all the same role. St. Paul points out that in our own bodies we have various parts, and no one part can go it alone. So, it is with the Church; we all need each other and are indispensable to each other. In fact, when you come to worship you are doing it not only for yourself, but for your brothers and sisters in Christ as well. You are an integral part of the body of Christ. And when the other parts of the body see you here, they are also encouraged in their faith. And when those outside the Church see you leaving your homes early on Sunday morning, they are encouraged to see just what it is that would cause you to drag yourself out of bed each weekend.
So, each part of the body of Christ is indispensable and all parts are brought together in unity to work together. And it is not us who get to pick and choose who is part of this body of Christ; the Church is not some voluntary association. No, it is the very bride of Christ, and it is God who chooses who is a part of this body; He brings people into the body according to His own good will and grace. Sometimes, perhaps, the people that God calls into the Church do not meet with our approval; just as we look down on parts of our own bodies. But, all the same, they are part of this body of Christ and owe their membership to God, just as we all do. We are all one in the Church.
The Lord delivers those who are poor in their own works, and captive, and blind, and oppressed. To those who recognize their poverty and blindness and oppression, the Lord brings his favor and deliverance. The Lord has delivered us, and thanks be to Christ for that. Amen.
(Image: Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue (Jésus dans la synagogue déroule le livre). By James Tissot – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2007, 00.159.71_PS2.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10195898