One of the major themes running through St Luke’s Gospel is to be found in what the old man Simeon said to the parents of Jesus’ when they took him as an eight day old baby to the Temple. ‘This child’, he said, ‘is destined for the fall and the rising of many.’ (Luke 3:34) Prior to this, in the same Gospel, Luke records the mother of Jesus declaring in the Magnificat that through her child God had begun to ‘cast down the mighty from their thrones’ and ‘exalt the lowly’, filling ‘the starving with good things’ and sending ‘the rich away empty’.
This expectation that the arrival of Jesus would reverse the order of power in Jewish society – the mighty would be brought low and the lowly would be lifted up – is often referred to as the ‘great reversal’. Karl Mark could not have wished for better.
After Jesus emerged into public life, it turned out that those in the best position to recognize his claim to be the Messiah ended up resisting him. They were the learned and what one might call the ‘establishment’ in Judaism. Conversely, the uneducated and illiterate, as well as the irreligious types like the tax collectors and others, were drawn to Jesus and followed him whenever they encountered him. In today’s Gospel (Luke4:21-30) we learn that people in Nazareth – those who had known Jesus since his early childhood – wanted to kill him, while the residents of Capernaum, Jesus’ adult home, flocked to him for healing.
Why did his fellow Nazarenes turn on Jesus? The answer from St Luke lies in the comment: ‘Isn’t this the son of Joseph, surely?’ While they were surprised at Jesus’ eloquence, they rejected him when they considered his family background (he was the ‘son of Joseph’). They felt that no one with such a background could preach authoratively about God. Because of this, his childhood neighbours at Nazareth found his message impossible to take seriously. Hence, Jesus infuriating them by giving examples from Jewish history of how their rejection of him was similar to how the great Prophet Elijah and others had been rejected in previous times.
In light of this, it’s worth asking ourselves: do I fall into a similar trap as the residents of Nazareth did with Jesus? Like them we can think we know all we need to know about Christ’s message in the Gospel and, unwittingly, have closed minds to its many challenges. But to hear the Gospel afresh – with the ears of someone who has never heard it before – can draw us into a deeper understanding of the Lord’s power and the effects of his love. However, to do this can be disruptive and even play havoc with our comfortable lives. So, understandably, this might be too much for those of us who do not want any ‘great reversal’ in our lives.
Holy Name, Jesmond
3 February 2018