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THE PRICE OF UNBELIEF

Read­ing Time: 8 minutes

(Ref. Texts: Jer 1:4–5.17–19; 1Cor 12:31–13:13; Luke 4:21–30)

No man is excluded from call­ing upon God, the gate of sal­va­tion is set open unto all men: neither is there any oth­er thing which kee­p­eth us back from enter­ing in, save only our own unbe­lief” (John Calvin).

Introduction

We con­tin­ue to read about Jesus’ activ­ity in the Temple of Syn­agogue. As I explained last week, after read­ing out his pro­gram, the eyes of every­one in the Syn­agogue were fixed on Jesus, as he delivered his undi­luted and spir­it-filled homily. Jesus told them “today, this writ­ing or this scrip­ture is ful­filled in your hear­ing.” Luke says all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gra­cious words he spoke, that they wondered if he is not the son of Joseph – “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gra­cious words that came from his mouth. They said, is not this Joseph’s son?” (Lk. 4:22). In Mark, the set­ting is dif­fer­ent. Accord­ing to Mark and Luke, this incid­ent took place in the Syn­agogue. But while in Luke, Jesus read a pas­sage from the Scrip­ture and explained it, in Mark, Jesus arrived Naz­areth, went into the Syn­agogue and star­ted teach­ing the people. In Luke, while the people spoke well of Jesus and were amazed at his wis­dom, in Mark, there was out­right rejec­tion. They wondered where he got his wis­dom. Hence, they asked “Is not this the car­penter, the son of Mary and broth­er of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sis­ters here with us? And they took offense at him” (Mark 6:3). Once Jesus entered his homet­own, Mark said some­thing very import­ant. Because Sab­bath was approach­ing, Jesus star­ted teach­ing the people, the same thing he does in oth­er towns and villages.

Although not expli­cit as in Mark 6:1–6, but Jesus under­stood the sense of their ques­tion that he quoted to them a fam­ous pro­verb “doc­tor, cure your­self”, “do in your own home­land that which you do in oth­er places.” Instead of reflect­ing on Jesus’ words, they wanted to prove to him that they know his fam­ily back­ground. With the argu­ment that a proph­et is recog­nized every oth­er place except in his homet­own (a sign of rejec­tion), Jesus informed them that God’s sal­va­tion and bless­ing are not restric­ted to a par­tic­u­lar people or region.

After his homily and words of chal­lenge, Luke reports that the people planned to kill Jesus by throw­ing him over a cliff. In Mark and Mat­thew, Jesus was unable to per­form any work in Naz­areth because of the people’s unbe­lief. Hav­ing seen the move to kill him by throw­ing him down the cliff, Luke notes that Jesus sneaked away from the crowd because it was not yet his time (cf. Luke 22:53; John 7:30). This incid­ent is a pre­fig­ur­a­tion of the cross. Accord­ing to Luke, it is through his death on the cross that Jesus offers God’s sal­va­tion to human­ity. Jesus will be cru­ci­fied on the cross, not thrown down the cliff. Sal­va­tion comes through the cross of Christ. Fur­ther­more, with his homily, Jesus answered two ques­tions. First, who did Isai­ah write of? And when will his words come to pass? Accord­ing to Jesus, Isai­ah refers to him and the time of the real­iz­a­tion of his words is “now.” This is why he told them that “today, this writ­ing or this scrip­ture is ful­filled in your hearing.”

The people reacts

Truly, I say to you, no proph­et is accept­able in his homet­own” (Luke 4:24). In Mark, we read the same thing but with an addi­tion that Jesus left them and could not do any­thing there due to their unbe­lief – “Proph­ets are not without hon­our, except in their homet­own, and among their own kin, and in their own house. And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbe­lief. Then he went about among the vil­lages teach­ing” (Mark 6:4–6). “Char­ity it is said, begins at home. Due to the love of his pat­ria, Jesus thought it wise to take the good mes­sage and heal­ing to his own people. Unfor­tu­nately, they killed his enthu­si­asm. And he must have been shocked by their super­fi­ci­al­ity and inab­il­ity to look bey­ond the bio­lo­gic­al and fam­ily back­grounds. Today, many priests can testi­fy to Jesus’ words that “Proph­ets are not without hon­our, except in their homet­own, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” Often, it appears the worse enemies to the priest are mem­bers of his own fam­ily. They falsely revere you so long as they are gain­ing some­thing mater­i­al from you, oth­er­wise, you are worth­less in their sight and they can nev­er speak well of you. Regret­tably, some priests cre­ate among their fam­ily mem­bers the impres­sion that they are the expec­ted mes­si­ah who can now handle and solve all their mater­i­al prob­lems. Nat­ur­ally, this atti­tude backfires.

There are so many ways we can reject God’s bless­ing. Jesus’ brethren lost God’s bless­ing because they con­cen­trated more on the bio­lo­gic­al iden­tity of Jesus. Instead of listen­ing to his teach­ings, they ques­tioned his wis­dom because they know him and his fam­ily mem­bers. If false proph­ets had come, they would have listened to them. But since they knew Jesus and since he told them the truth, they had to reject his teach­ings because accord­ing to them, he is not qual­i­fied to speak to them in that man­ner. Ours is a soci­ety where people are val­ued based on their social status and on their mater­i­al achieve­ment. God’s bless­ing is also lost through this way. Some lose God’s bless­ing due to dis­obedi­ence, unfaith­ful­ness, injustice, unright­eous­ness, dis­crim­in­a­tion, and super­fi­ci­al­ity in spir­itu­al mat­ters.”[1] The people of Naz­areth nev­er knew that God was with Jesus and will nev­er him to be defeated (cf. First Reading).

Jesus responds

When the people rejec­ted Jesus because they know his bio­lo­gic­al back­ground, Jesus did not keep quiet. Mark notes he went away and did not come back. To their amazement if this is not Joseph’s son, Jesus respon­ded “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” (Luke 4:23). After his cru­ci­fix­ion, and as the people stood by watch­ing, Luke notes that “the lead­ers scoffed at him, say­ing, he saved oth­ers; let him save him­self if he is the Mes­si­ah of God, his chosen one!” (Luke 23:35). That Jesus could read the thoughts of people is an indic­a­tion of his deity (cf. Luke 5:22; 6:8; 7:40; 9:47; 11:17).

Con­tinu­ing, Jesus said “amēn [truly], I say to you, no proph­et is accept­able in his homet­own. But in truth I tell you, there were many wid­ows in Israel in Elijah’s days, when the sky was shut up three and a half years, and there was a great fam­ine over all the land. Yet Eli­jah was sent to none of them, but only to a woman who was a wid­ow at Zare­phath in Sidon. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the proph­et Elisha, yet none of them was cleansed except Naa­man the Syr­i­an” (Luke 4:24–27). Usu­ally, amēn is placed at the end of state­ments. But here, Jesus places it at the begin­ning, indic­at­ing the truth of his words that fol­low (cf. also Luke 7:16). Jesus does not simply speak the truth, he is the truth of God. He is the son of God and must be listened to (cf. Luke 9:35). Jesus under­stood their sar­casm. They were not plead­ing with Jesus to heal them of their phys­ic­al and spir­itu­al ail­ments. Instead, they derided him and in some sense were mak­ing cari­ca­ture of him. Their sar­casm was a rejec­tion of Jesus and God’s bless­ing as in Mark. Jesus respon­ded abruptly.

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