Then Jesus began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”Luke 4:21
Somewhere along the journey of life, if we are living well, we all come to realize that what we want and what we need are not necessarily the same. Something similar, I think, happens on our journey of faith. We come to the realization, somewhere along the way, that Jesus is not always the kind of Savior that we want, but instead is always the Savior that we need. But this can be a hard truth to learn, as we see in today’s Gospel Reading (Luke 4:21-30).
If I were to make a movie of today’s Gospel Reading, I would begin the movie at the end of the end of the story. With Jesus on the edge of a cliff, about to be thrown off that cliff by the very people that he grew up with. His friends, relatives, so many familiar faces, now an angry mob trying to kill him. That would be a great opening for this movie that I have in mind.
And then I would have a series of flashbacks, showing just how he ended up in this predicament. And in the process, the moviegoer would find out just how Jesus came to refuse being the Savior that the people wanted, so that he could be the Savior that he knew they truly needed.
The Story of Jesus Leading up to Nazareth
The flashbacks for this imaginary movie of mine might begin back at the River Jordan, when Jesus is baptized by John, and hears a voice from heaven declaring him to be God’s beloved Son. Then the scene would shift dramatically to the wilderness, where Jesus spent 40 days fasting and being tempted by the devil. Then would come scenes from Capernaum, where Jesus would be shown teaching in the synagogues, and performing miracles, and inviting disciples to follow him.
And then the action would turn to Nazareth, the town where he grew up. And there would be this dramatic scene of Jesus in the synagogue, the very synagogue he attended as he grew up. It’s the Sabbath day. Jesus is in the synagogue. And with family and friends all around, Jesus stands up and reads, from the prophet Isaiah, this remarkable passage:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)
And then he sits down. All eyes are on him. And he opens his mouth, and says: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)
The crowd gathered that day is excited. They speak well of him. They are amazed at the amazing words that came from his mouth. From Jesus, Joseph’s son, who has now become a miracle-worker and a local celebrity. They’ve heard the stories about him since he left. Stories about miracles and wondrous events. They haven’t seen any of it. Not yet. But they are eager for it.
But, let’s be honest, they are probably a little bit skeptical, too. They’ve known Jesus his whole life. They haven’t seen any of these so-called miracles for themselves. So, where’s the proof? Let’s see some of those miracles, they are probably thinking.
But here, the story turns. Because Jesus is not going to offer them any proof. It would have been simple enough for him to do so. But he refuses. Why? Because he knows that his mission is not to be “Son of Joseph, Miracle-Worker.” (Which is what the people of Nazareth want.) His mission is to be “Son of God, Savior”. (Which is what the people of Nazareth, and our world, need.)
A Prophet in His Hometown
And so, he tells them that he is not going to do in his hometown what he has done in Capernaum. He is not going to perform any miracles in Nazareth. Like Elijah and Elisha, the great prophets of old, his mission is not to help his hometown, but to be God’s prophet to all the world. And he shares the words that have become familiar to us all, “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.” (Luke 4:24)
Our Bible study group spent a little time last Wednesday thinking about what it means to be a prophet. I wrote up a reflection on our conversation for my blog, which you can find here: What Is a Prophet?
But what we realized during our conversation is that Jesus is a prophet. He is more than a prophet, clearly, but he is not less than that. And as a prophet, he is being called to share a word that will not always be well-received. That is true for all prophets. If they were speaking only words that were easily embraced, they wouldn’t really be prophets.
But Jesus also demonstrates another important characteristic of the biblical prophets. And that is the importance of love. As Paul puts it in our second reading,
“If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:2)
Jesus has prophetic powers, but he also has love. All of God’s prophets do. This love that Jesus has for us does not mean that his message will always be embraced by us. Just as he was not embraced by the people in Nazareth. And so, he is a prophet that is not accepted in his hometown. He is a prophet that ends up on the edge of the cliff, with an angry crowd all around him. A crowd that used to love him. A crowd that he loves even then. Our movie is now back to the opening scene, with Jesus at the brow of the hill.
More than a Prophet, a Savior
Jesus passes through the crowd and vanishes. Why? Because it was not yet time for him to complete his mission. The story is not over. Far from it. There will eventually be another crowd that will want to crucify Jesus. And he won’t vanish. He will be nailed to a cross. Why? Because Jesus knows that his mission is not simply to be a prophet. It is to be the world’s Savior, whose death will save the world from sin.
Jesus is called to be a Savior. Not the Savior that his hometown wants. But the Savior that they need. His mission is not to be “Son of Joseph, Miracle-Worker,” but “Son of God, Savior.” And this is good news for them, and for us all. We know that, because we know how this movie ends.
Think about it this way: If Jesus was content simply to be “Son of Joseph, Miracle-Worker,” then a few people might end up being cured of their disease. But the world would not end up being saved from its sin. We would not end up saved from our sin. If Jesus was content simply to be “Son of Joseph, Miracle-Worker”, then there is no good news in the gospel. And no hope for our world. But He’s not. He is not content simply to be “Son of Joseph, Miracle-Worker.” Because Jesus is “Son of God, Savior.”
And when he proclaims that it is the year of the Lord’s favor – as he does in the synagogue in his hometown – it really is, just because he says so. If the Son of God, our Lord and Savior, tells us that it is the year of the Lord’s favor, then by definition it is. Because he is the Lord.
It doesn’t really matter what is happening in our lives right now. Whether things are going well or badly, we are still living in the year of the Lord’s favor. Whether we feel good about how we’re living our life or not; whether we feel especially close to God today or not. It’s still the year of the Lord’s favor for us all. Just because Jesus says so.
When God said, “Let there be light”, there was light. In the same way, when Jesus says, “This is the year of the Lord’s favor,” it is. When Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven you,” they are forgiven you, just because Jesus said it. Because he is the Son of God, our Savior.
Today, declares our Lord and Savior, all the promises of Scripture – all the promises of God – have been fulfilled. Because today our sins have been forgiven. Today, we have been given the gift of eternal life. And there is nothing in this world that you and I need more than this. We will be tempted to think and believe otherwise. We will be tempted to place our trust in other saviors – in wealth and health, in politics and pleasure. But all that’s passing away. And at the end of the day, when all the claims of the world have gone to dust, Jesus tells us that he will be here. The Savior that you and I truly need. Not just a prophet. Not just a miracle-worker. But the Son of God, who died to forgive us of all your sins. Thanks be to God. Amen.