In a 2015 article for the Greenville News, Katherine Scott Crawford asked the question, “Was Thomas Wolfe right? Is it true that ‘you can’t go home again’? When I left for college at 18 years old, I was so ready to be out in the great big world I barely looked back. The hardest part of leaving was saying goodbye to my old dog, Magic, whom we’d had since I was six.
“When I came home that Christmas, I’d changed, and so had my family. Sitting around the dinner table, the tenor of our conversation had altered: I realized, as I dug into my baked potato, that they’d moved on without me … that, in many ways, they’d formed a new unit. One that would always welcome me, but that worked just fine without me. It was a bit of a shock to my 19-year-old ego.
“Now when I’m in my childhood home, I [sometimes] feel panic. Panic at the realization that one day, this will no longer be my childhood home. That someone else besides my parents will live here, chronicle their heights in penciled inches on the frame of the closet door, swing from the attic ledge that juts out over the steps to the upstairs bedrooms, slide in socked feet down the long wood floor of the downstairs hallway, or sit for as long as they can stand on the living room hearth, their backs to a roaring real fire in the giant brick fireplace.
“I have a home now. Still, one husband and two children later, I’m not quite ready to relinquish the one in which I grew up.
Is Wolfe right? I’m not so sure. Instead, these days as I ponder on the notion of home, I rather think Maya Angelou holds the key. She said, “You can never go home again, but the truth is you can never leave home, so it’s all right.”
Today we’ll look at the one time Jesus returned to His hometown, Nazareth. He went there to tell them why He had entered the ministry and was going all around the other towns of Galilee. He went there to tell them who He REALLY was. It didn’t go so well as they chose not to hear it.
Jesus was sent to help people, but not all people are willing to be helped.
1. Jesus had made a name for Himself in the region, but now returned home. (14-16)
Having resisted all the temptations in the wilderness (4:1-12), Jesus ministered all around his home province of Galilee. (14) A result of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness was that He was FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT’S POWER. This would be the power behind His miracles and teaching, reports about which made Him a public figure in Galilee.
We know Jesus did miracles, but in v. 15, it was his teaching that everyone praised. A synagogue was the local place for worship and teaching of the Jewish faith. The fact that He taught in REGULARLY in the SYNAGOGUES around Galilee implies that Jesus ministered for some time before returning to Nazareth.
He finally got back to His hometown, home synagogue, and was honored to be asked to read the Scripture. (16) AS USUAL pairs with REGULARLY in v. 15 to show that weekly worship was a customary part of Jesus’ life. To be asked to read the Scriptures at the weekly meeting was an honor. Each week, the leaders of the synagogue would choose someone to read. Visiting teachers were invited to give some teaching. (For example, Paul and Barnabas were invited to speak to the synagogue at Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:15).) The local religious leaders were aware of Jesus’ new-found reputation and were treating Him with deference.
While it was an honor to be asked to read the Scriptures, I feel safe in saying it was not the first time Jesus read the Scriptures in that synagogue. Given what we know about Jesus and His acuity with the Word of God already at age 12 (Luke2:46-47), we assume He’d been regularly asked to read the Scriptures in the Nazarene synagogue. It’s likely this was a frequent event between ages 13 and 30.
2. Jesus read a prophecy and announced He’d been sent to fulfill it. (17-22)
Jesus selected a prophecy of Isaiah to read. (17-19) The SCROLL OF ISAIAH was HANDED to Jesus. He didn’t necessarily select it for Himself. This is a detail that implies the Father’s involvement. It is clear Jesus chose these specific words to read from the scroll, which proves His intention.
It was customary to stand to read the Scriptures and to sit to teach about them. Luke’s account of this event is accurate in all its details.
The words recorded in vs. 18-19 are those found in Isaiah 61:1-2. That section of Isaiah (chs. 61-66) is very forward-looking, much of it describing what the New Heavens and New Earth will be like.
The phrase “HE SENT ME” is key. Although He did not use the word “born” in this sentence, it explains another purpose of the Incarnation: God became one of us to help all of us, but especially those whom the world has oppressed. Jesus was SENT in the sense that He left Heaven to be born on earth.
God’s purpose in sending Him was predicted in 4 ways in Isaiah.
- GOOD NEWS to the POOR. The POOR get a lot of attention in Luke’s gospel.
- Release for the CAPTIVES. “Release” here can include healing from disease, exorcism of demons, and giving knowledge to the ignorant.
- Vision for the BLIND. This is both physical and spiritual blindness.
- Freedom for the OPPRESSED. Those who receive the worst treatment at the hands of the world will be given liberty from their oppressors.
Jesus was able to fulfill this prophecy by the HOLY SPIRIT’S POWER (14) as promised, the SPIRIT OF THE LORD was upon Him (18). The SPIRIT was given like an anointing with oil. Anointing with oil was a ritual of preparation for ministry and service to God. The word “Messiah” means “the Anointed One.” The title “Christ” is the Greek version of Messiah. For all people, THE TIME OF THE LORD’S FAVOR had COME.
With people hanging on His every word, Jesus announced Himself as the fulfillment of this prophecy. (20-21) In a very dramatic moment, Jesus indicated that was all He intended to read by rolling the scroll back up and handing it to the attendant. Luke adds to the drama by noting ALL EYES IN THE SYNAGOGUE LOOKED AT HIM INTENTLY.
Jesus began His remarks with a statement that was clearly divisive and probably startling. He said, “THE SCRIPTURE YOU’VE JUST HEARD HAS BEEN FULFILLED THIS VERY DAY!” Jesus could’ve read this Scripture and made this announcement in any of the synagogues in which He’d been teaching (15). But He chose to read it in Nazareth, in His home synagogue, in His hometown. Luke doesn’t tell us why, but I like to think Jesus made this choice to honor and bless the people with whom He grew up. You can understand how Jesus might have wanted to go home and be received by his hometown folks.
Some of the people were pleased to hear it. (22) To identify Himself as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy was like yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater. At first, His comments were well-received; EVERYONE SPOKE WELL OF HIM AND WAS AMAZED THAT SUCH GRACIOUS WORDS CAME FROM HIS LIPS.
Perhaps they didn’t immediately understand the importance of Jesus’ claim to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy. Perhaps the words GOOD NEWS, RELEASED, BLIND WILL SEE, FREE, and THE LORD’S FAVOR all sounded good, and they stopped listening or thinking at that positive, welcome news. However, some of the folks, as we see in the last part of v. 22, started having questions right away.
3. The crowd turned on Jesus when He explained who He really was. (22-30)
Some of the people doubted His words. (22) They were willing to see Jesus only as they had known Him, as JOSEPH’S SON.
2) They were unwilling to accept Jesus’ claim to be the fulfillment of prophecy, much less the Son of God!
B. Jesus explained their slowness of heart to believe. (23-27)
1) V. 23 = Jesus anticipated their request for a miraculous sign that would prove these outrageous claims He was making.
2) In v. 24 He warned them there would be no duplication in Nazareth of the miracles done in Capernaum. This was because they were, as v. 22 shows, unwilling to believe this local kid had such power. The Nazarenes may’ve been a little envious that Jesus favored Capernaum with several miracles, while for them He’d done none.
His quoting the PROVERB (not Scripture, just a well-known truth of human nature), that NO PROPHET IS ACCEPTED IN HIS HOMETOWN, is what started their unhappiness with him. A more familiar proverb expresses this same truth about human nature: “Familiarity breeds contempt.” There was nothing in Jesus’ personal history in Nazareth to cause anyone to distrust Him – quite the opposite, I’d guess – so they were just unwilling to accept the Messiah had lived among them all this time and they didn’t know it.
In vs. 25-27 Jesus gave two historical examples of times when God chose to do miracles for non-Jews. The widow of Zarephath lived outside Israel. Though she was a Gentile, God nonetheless sent Elijah to her, to do the miracle of raising her son from the dead. (1 Kings 17:8-24) God did this even though there were many Jewish widows without heirs.
Naaman was a Syrian whom Elisha cleansed of leprosy. Though there were many lepers in Israel, God chose to show grace to this FOREIGNER instead. (2 Kings 5:1-19) This example involve a Syrian. Jesus could not have picked two more inflammatory stories as in those days Syrians and Galileans were considered mortal enemies. People from both provinces hated each other fiercely.
I believe Jesus was trying to get three points across to the community in Nazareth
- One, they should not expect special treatment as Jesus’ hometown. They should believe on Him on the basis of what they knew about Him growing up; they should not require any proof.
- Two, as Jesus taught, the entire Jewish nation should not expect special treatment just because they were Abraham’s descendants. Their special status would not save them.
- Three, Jesus may’ve offered this as a defense of His doing miracles involving even Gentiles in Capernaum, starting His ministry elsewhere, only then coming back home to Nazareth.
This provoked the crowd to murderous fury, but Jesus left, unharmed. (28-30). At first, it seemed like the reactions to Jesus were mixed. Now, the people were all offended; they jumped up in fury. They were going to do more than argue with Jesus, THEY INTENDED TO PUSH HIM OFF A CLIFF! It’s amazing how quickly an approving crowd (22) can turn into a lynch mob (29), but that is accurate to human nature; examples abound.
We might assume it was a miracle that Jesus was able to pass through His hostile former neighbors unharmed, but Luke uses none of his usual references to miracles here. However it happened, Jesus PASSED RIGHT THROUGH THEM and left the village.
According to the gospels, Jesus never went back to Nazareth again. Imagine! These folks had the privilege of having the MESSIAH grow up in their little village, but when He announced Himself to them, they ran Him out of town, never to be seen there again!
Jesus was sent to help people, but not all people are willing to be helped.
Knowing human hearts as thoroughly as Jesus did, the reaction of the Nazarenes would surely not have surprised Him. He acted according to the Father’s direction even though He knew their reaction to the truth would be violent rejection.
How sad. This could have been a joyous occasion if these hometown folk would have recognized that God Himself had grown up in their midst! If you or I went back to our hometowns and claimed to be God, those people who know us so well would say, “Oh really? Well, I remember when you did this... or said that... those aren’t the kind of things that God would do or say!” And they’d be right.
But with Jesus, there would have been no basis for making accusation against Him. He had never sinned. There was no evidence against His claim, so their unbelief is twice damned. They rejected Jesus though He spoke the truth and backed it up with a lifetime of gentle and humble service to God.
A similar thing happens when we claim to be Christians. The things we say and do will either prove that claim true or expose it as false. All that lies in our power to decide. We can’t decide how others will react, but that shouldn’t determine our actions should it?
Allison A. Trites, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 12, The Gospel of Luke, 2006, pp. 80-83.