Last week’s gospel reading gave us an insight into Jesus’s preaching in the synagogue in Nazareth, his home town. This week, what we get to hear about, is the response from the people that heard what he had to say.
Firstly we hear their amazement, not uncommon in Luke’s Gospel. It’s no surprise that they were amazed, really. Jesus has just made a huge declaration about who he is. He’s told all those present that the spirit of the Lord is upon him and in doing so he places himself at the centre of the messianic prophecy.
This passage is not just Jesus standing up and reading the scroll, he takes the next step beyond simply quoting and reading the Isaiah scroll by then making his own comments, connecting what he reads to the current moment. Jesus interprets the meaning and significance of the Isaiah prophesy, pointing them towards where to look as he sits among them to entertain the questions that follow. What Luke is teaching us here is that reading scripture as part of a community is an essential tool. Talking with each other about what we have heard and read can lead to a much deeper understanding.
There is a challenge in this passage too, the confusing change in atmosphere from amazement about what he had to say to the questioning of his background. ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’ they ask. In the other Gospel accounts about Jesus’ hometown conflict, the questions continue, and things devolve with the crowd taking offence at Jesus’ deeds and teachings. In Luke’s version, he counters it. But we are still left with the puzzle as to why the atmosphere changed, why the crowd suddenly felt that Jesus wasn’t worthy to be teaching in the synagogue at all. Some suggest that this story reflects the problem of the honour-shame code when it meets God’s prophetic disclosures and intentions. Jesus has turned this on it’s head.
For us today, I think it is worthwhile spending time thinking how we hear this passage – Do we identify with the wisdom that this tale offers? That talking about scripture in community is a valuable tool for deepening our understanding and faith. Or do we identify more with the confusion over whether or not Jesus is able to speak adequately to those who have known him from infancy? This might reflect on us personally as to whether we feel worthy to offer our own interpretations of scripture.
For me, there is merit in reflecting on both. I know that I have gained much insight from talking with others about how they read and understand some passages of scripture, and I know that I have in some instances felt afraid of offering my own interpretations. But I have gained so much every time I have engaged in these things that I think it worthwhile, even if it is outside my comfort zone. I believe that is where most growth happens.
Rev’d Peter Reiss