Spirituality of the Readings
The Carpenter's Son?
This week the other shoe drops. Jesus spoke in a Nazareth synagogue last week and now moments later in the same synagogue we will hear the people’s reaction to his message. A hint: they will try to throw him off a cliff.
To see why, look at how bold Jesus is. First he searches out a prediction of the Messiah from the book of Isaiah. Here are the very words he read in the synagogue:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord (Is 61: 1-3).
The people loved him …
… until he applied the reading to himself! He said, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Gospel)! “This scripture passage” was known to all as referring to the Messiah. They saw clearly that Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah!
They were stunned. He had grown up in their midst. He was the carpenter’s son, the one they had seen weekly in this same synagogue. Why in the world would a local man come up with such a bizarre story?
We already know why. At the Jordan river, when he had received baptism, the heavens opened up and the Holy Spirit descended upon him and a voice from the heavens said, “You are my beloved son, and in you I am well pleased” (Lk 3:21-22)!
The Father’s voice, out loud! Jesus’ public ministry would soon begin. He was openly the anointed servant of God.
Immediately he fled into the desert to brood and to pray. Why? His consciousness of his divinity formerly had been lodged mainly at the depths of his human awareness. Now it had to be drawn up further into mindfulness and dealt with.
But his humanity meant that he could be attracted to the wrong answers too, ones suggested by the devil. Turn his divinity into self-satisfaction, into power, into reputation. He was authentically tempted, but each time he refused.
Now in the power of the Spirit he had come back to Nazareth, as Luke says. It becomes obvious why he selected that passage from Isaiah in the synagogue. Isaiah's words above were about him!
How were his Nazareth neighbors supposed to have any understanding of this? He looked like a mad-man, madly claiming equality with God! To them he was simultaneously insulting his home town, his people, Israel, and God.
“He is out of his mind!” they shouted.
Jesus tells them that neither Elijah or Elisha, great prophets, had been able to work their miracles in Israel, but went elsewhere to do them. “No prophet is accepted in his own native place,” he said.
So suddenly he is one of the prophets!
They pull him out to a cliff, planning to annihilate such a blasphemer. He escaped somehow but now the ball was in motion. This scene—and it is the first one described in his public ministry—forecasts his remaining life. First loved and accepted, then pushed to his death.
In the coming months we will see him carrying out his public ministry. What will he do? We must find out, because we are to be filled with the same Holy Spirit.
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University