All Saints’, Dorval
January 30, 2022
View from the brow of Mt. Kedumim in Nazareth, over Mt. Tabor and the Jezreel valley. From BibleWalks.com.
Let’s remember what came right before this Sunday’s Gospel.
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’
And that’s where it picks up today, with the hometown crowd at Nazareth being amazed and wondering, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”, and Jesus then challenging them with provocative questions, until they turn around and try to throw him off the cliff.
The new and the old are colliding in this passage. In the faith community that raised Jesus up, he brings both stunning good news and intolerable challenge. And he receives both adulation and mortal threat.
It seems strangely appropriate that we read this Gospel in a service in which the 1662 Book of Common Prayer meets the technology of the COVID pandemic (2020-?). The new and old collide. They may not mesh all that well.
Jesus is Nazareth’s hometown boy, and apparently that means they can love him or hate him, but nothing in between.
They raised him up, and that means they want to hear from him only what confirms their goodness and rightness, not anything that they haven’t already taught him.
Jesus goes to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as is his custom. (He shows up! They raised him right!) He receives the scroll that is handed to him, and “finds the place” where particular words are written. Does that mean that he looked for those words specifically? Or just that that happened to be where the previous reader had left off? We don’t know.
But the words proclaim jubilee. They proclaim release to the captive and recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed and the year of the Lord’s favour. This is ancient prophecy, familiar to everyone in the room. It is a promise of ages past, specifically for them. The old, beloved traditions are being upheld.
And Jesus proclaims that today this scripture has been fulfilled in their hearing. And they are thrilled! God is doing a new thing! At last, the words of the prophets are coming true! This is going to be great!
But then, out of nowhere, Jesus attacks 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.’ … Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.”
He didn’t even give them a chance! This new thing is offensive. It’s scary. Jesus is telling them that this good news, this fulfilment of prophecy, is for somebody else, not for them. How dare he? That’s not what Isaiah meant! Who does he think he is?
And so they end up at the brow of a cliff, poised to throw the native son over the edge in a fit of rage.
Bringing the new out of the old is hard.
The old is deeply rooted – but sometimes those roots need to be cleared away so something new can grow.
The new is brash and brave – but sometimes saying the right thing the wrong way can get you thrown off a cliff.
Were the Nazarenes wrong to want the fulfilment of prophecy to be for them? If it wasn’t for them, what did it mean that it was being fulfilled in their hearing? What did Jesus want from them?
They had raised him up. They had taught him everything they knew. They had made him who he was. And this is how he repaid them?
But maybe they were the ones selling themselves short.
Maybe instead of telling them that the prophecies were being fulfilled for them, he was trying to tell them that the prophecies were being fulfilled through them.
Maybe he was inviting them to come with him, to pitch in, to join him in proclaiming release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, in bringing good news to the poor and bringing about the year of the Lord’s favour.
The old and the new are both full of promise. But the old promises comfort and security, while the new promises excitement and possibility.
When Jesus was repeating to them the words of old prophecy, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from him mouth.”
Another translation phrases this as “the words of sheer grace” that came from his mouth.
But grace is only grace if it’s for everybody. And that’s where the old, comforting prophecy turns new and disconcerting. The fulfillment of prophecy isn’t just about waiting until the local golden boy has grown up and makes everything better.
It’s about listening to that golden boy even when he says things that scare you and daunt you. It’s about hearing the story he has to tell and letting it change you – letting it convince you that the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian are just as much God’s children as you are.
It’s about realizing that he has taken the old, beloved story you lovingly taught him, and made of it something new and challenging – but nevertheless true. It’s about trusting him enough to join him in fulfilling the prophecy – even if what that means for you is difficulty and danger.
Because we must remain rooted in the old and we must embrace the new. There is no alternative. God’s promises endure and are faithful – and God continually leads us into the new thing God is doing.
That community in Nazareth raised Jesus up. They formed him into a man whose custom was to be in the synagogue every Sabbath, hearing the word of God. Who was rooted in the old ways of his ancestors in faith.
But then, he turned around and held out his hand to them, and said, now it’s time for me to raise you up. Will you join me on this journey, of becoming the ones through whom the prophecies will be fulfilled? Will you join me in extending the promise to the whole world? In raising up all the children of God, in setting the captives free and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour?
And maybe he could have phrased it a bit more tactfully. But resurrection can’t always wait. And perhaps tact isn’t the first priority when your feet are set on a road that will lead, ultimately, to another hill outside another city, and a confrontation that will end on a cross.
God’s call is urgent, and when the time is now, we must answer.
We, too, have been raised up in the good old ways, in the familiar words and music that we were taught as children. But today the prophecies are being fulfilled in our hearing, and Jesus stands before us, asking: are you ready to do something new?