After some time away from Nazareth, St. Luke tells us, Jesus returned and delivered a homily in the synagogue. His remarks were a kind of keynote for his ministry. At first, his listeners liked what they heard.
But then Jesus clarified something about his intentions, and this sent the Nazarenes into a rage. Suddenly, the congregation at prayer turned into a lynch mob.
What caused this sharp reversal?
The Nazarenes had heard of Jesus’ miraculous cures in other towns and were looking forward to his coming home and using his powers to give his own town special treatment. But Jesus declared, confrontatively, that he had no intention of playing favorites. (It wasn’t that he refused to help his old neighbors. A similar account in Mark’s Gospel makes it clear that he was quite willing to heal the sick in Nazareth.)
We could easily understand the Nazarenes feeling disappointed about this. But why did it make them so angry?
Jesus was indicating that his mission was aimed ultimately beyond the boundaries of Judaism into the world, to all peoples. In that case, the Nazarenes realized, he wasn’t planning to bring about a restoration of independence and power to the Jewish people.
The very suggestion that God’s agent for the salvation of Israel was not going to re-establish the earthly greatness of his people infuriated the Nazarenes. Anyone promoting such an idea should be eliminated at once!
If they had been willing to consider Jesus’ teaching with an open mind, he might have been able to draw them into his mission. The Scripture passage on which he had just preached spoke of good news for poor people, captives and those who are oppressed. Jesus’ vision encompassed all the poor and oppressed, not just those in Israel.
If the Nazarenes would have let go of their nationalistic understanding of God’s purposes for them, they could have joined Jesus’ band of disciples and learned from him how to share in his work.
And isn’t this where we’re at, too? Aren’t we all, in a way, sitting in the synagogue in Nazareth and being confronted by Jesus’ inaugural address? Don’t we, like the Nazarenes, need to decide whether to put the interests of our nation, our tribe, our group, ahead of others, or to get with Jesus’ mission in the world?