Gospel: Luke 4:21-30


What do people expect from religion and the Church? What happens when their expectations are unfulfilled? Explain.

Religion has many functions for our society. Some equate religious life with private life. For these people, faith has a psychological dimension, a spiritual balm that soothes the stress and strains of daily life. Or, Church acts as a private club, a Sunday meeting place for friends.

Others see religion as a moral barometer, a social conscience. Religious leaders should point the way to a better life, a higher example. Religious people should help the needy and the oppressed. In this way, they can help to build a better society.

These, and many other reasons, are good, solid reasons that argue for religious life and the existence of the Church. But they don't get to the root reason for religion and religious groups. The ultimate reason for religion is faith, a relationship with God. The Church is to foster that faith.

Jesus came to Nazareth for that purpose. But the expectations of the people lie elsewhere.

Popular Translation

Jesus read from Isaiah the prophet.

21 Then, he taught the people there, "Today, this Scripture reading came true as you heard it!"

22 At first, everyone was happy with Jesus. They were really amazed at what he said! So, they began to say, "Isn't this just Joseph's son?"

23 So Jesus spoke up, "You really want to tell me, 'Doctor, heal now! We heard what happened in Capernaum. Do the same things here!' 24 Listen! No preacher is accepted in his hometown. 25 Listen again! In the time of Elijah, there were many widows in Israel when it stopped raining for three and one half years. And there was a great famine everywhere. God didn't sent Elijah to any of them except to the widow Serepta from foreign town of Sidon. In the time of Elisha the prophet, there were many lepers in Israel. None of them were cured except Nanaam, the foreigner from Syria."

28 When they heard his words, everyone in the synagogue got really angry. 29 They stood up and threw Jesus outside Nazareth. Then, they led him up to the edge of hill on which the city was built. They were going to throw down to the bottom of the hill. 30 But, Jesus walked away right through them.

Jesus proclaimed the fulfillment of Isaiah. But the people from his own hometown did not accept his message. Jesus and the people had a parting of the ways. They had different expectations. Ministry vs. Family.

After Jesus read from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, he taught the people in the synagogue.

Literal Translation

21 HE began to speak to them, "Today, this scripture has been fulfilled while you heard it." 22 All approved of HIM, were amazed at the gracious words coming from HIS mouth, and said, "Is this not Joseph's son?" 23 HE said to them, "No doubt you will tell me this proverb: 'Physician, heal yourself. As much as we heard happen in Capernaum, also do here in your home region.'" 24 He said to them, "Amen, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his home region. 25 In truth I say to you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the heavens were closed for three years and six months, as there was a great famine over all the earth. 26 Elijah was sent to none of them, except Serepta of the Sidon (area), to a widow woman. 27 There were many lepers in Israel (in the time of) Elisha the prophet. None of them were cleansed except Namaan the Syrian." 28 Hearing these (words), all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 Having stood up, they threw him out of the city and led him to the top of the hill on which their city had been built, so they could throw him off. 30 But he, going through their midst, walked (away).

4:22 "All approved of him" is literally "All bore witness (about) him." This phrase can also be translated "all spoke well of him."

"were amazed at the gracious words coming from his mouth" "gracious words" is literally "words of grace." The words revealed the inner character of Jesus. We, however, should not take the "words of grace" to imply Jesus revealed his divinity at this point in time. The people were amazed at Jesus and, so, stated surprise because of his humble origins.

"Is this not Joseph's son?" This question can imply amazement or contempt on the part of Jesus' audience.

4:23 "'Physician, heal yourself. As much as we heard happen in Capernaum, also do here in your home region.'" Jesus filled in the thoughts of his audience for Luke's readers. While the proverb seemed to indicate the physician should be the object of the sentence (Jesus should heal himself of his "arrogance"), actually the crowd wanted Jesus to perform miracles to justify his reputation. In other words, the physician is the subject and the object (the "sick") is understood. A better way to translate the sentence might be "Physician, heal!"

4:22-23 These two verses present us with a problem. Did the people of Nazareth reject Jesus? Or did Jesus reject the Nazarenes? At first, the people were amazed and asked a simple question with deep implications. If Jesus were just the son of Joseph, he, too, should be a carpenter. In a culture that distrusted change and treasured stability, a son should follow in his father's footsteps. But, Jesus did not follow Joseph's lead. Indeed, Jesus raised himself in social stature as a traveling rabbi-healer. He claimed to be better than his legal father. So, the question of origin acted as a hinge point. To see beyond Jesus' humble beginnings required faith.

4:25 "the heavens were closed for three years and six months" Ancient Jews believed the sky was a large blue bowl that covered a flat earth. This sky "bowl" held back the waters of creation. When doors opened in the sky, it would rain. The phrase "the heavens were closed" meant there was a drought for three and one half years.

4:29 "the top of the hill on which their city had been built" Ancient Nazareth was built on the slope of a hill.

4:30 "But he, going through their midst, walked (away)." Jesus did not escape, but freed himself from their grip and walked away right through their gathering. No one dared to touch him.

This Sunday's gospel passage is a continuation of last week's reading when Jesus entered the synagogue and declared Isaiah's prophecy fulfilled. In that declaration, Jesus referred to himself as God's servant, the Chosen One upon whom God had given his Spirit. Jesus' mission was proof of that claim; he preached, taught, and healed in the name of God's Kingdom. [21] His simple, straightforward declaration would cause controversy to those who thought they knew "Joseph's son." [22]

At first, Jesus acknowledged their objections:

"Physician, cure yourself." Some in the small town community who watched Jesus grow up had placed Jesus into a box, a pecking order, like many family members do. They knew his strengths and weaknesses, so they thought Jesus should prove himself at that moment. And prove them wrong! This was simply their way of putting Jesus into his place.

"Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum." Others in the community were looking for a show. Unconsciously, they had reduced Jesus' ministry to an intellectual debate over theology and a few parlor tricks (i.e., healings and exorcisms). For them, Jesus had entertainment value.

Jesus responds to their comments with an appeal to the two great prophets of Galilee: Elijah and Elisha. The two signs given by these prophets were to foreigners to promote faith in the Jewish God. As these great prophets were called to do, so was Jesus. [25-27]

Why did the crowd rise up against Jesus? Because he stepped outside the box they had constructed for Jesus. He was no longer the local boy who made good; he was a self-proclaimed prophet. And his signs were not for the edification of the mob, but for the glory of God. In these ways, he rejected the expectations of those in Nazareth, and, so, they rejected him. [24, 28-29] As a last sign to them, Jesus walked safely through them and, according to Scripture, he never returned to his hometown. [30]

Catechism Themes: Praying at Difficult Times (CCC 2752-2758)

Expectations can be caused by frustration. We want something to happen. So we look to others for fulfillment. Faith can become confused. And prayer can dry up.

Why does prayer sometimes seem so hard? Prayer is sometimes difficult because we fight against ourselves and the temptations around us (including the devil). Prayer can become hard when we use prayer for selfish ends (praying only for a particular need or to reduce stress), or when we don't take the time to pray on a regular basis, or when we reject prayer as a "waste of time." Prayer can be extremely hard when we sense personal failure; we have the temptation to give up instead of persevering. As a result, we can feel dry and can be easily distracted in prayer; we can even lose faith and become depressed. (2752, 2753, 2754, 2755)

What can we do when prayer becomes hard? We can take two strategies when prayer becomes hard. First, we can realize that our faith is being tested; we can change our prayer in order to seek God's will for us. Second, we can realize that prayer is never wasted; we are challenged to use prayer as a means to overcome frustration in prayer. As St. Paul said, "Pray constantly." (1 Thess. 5:17) (2756, 2757)

How did Jesus pray in his time of difficulty? In John 17, Jesus prayed a prayer for his disciples called the "priestly prayer." Even before his death, he prayed for the unity of his followers and for union with his followers. His prayer teaches us the true measure of prayer, the desire to be one with God at every point in life. (2758)

What do you expect from prayer? How have your expectations been fulfilled? How has your prayer life helped (or hindered) your faith life?

Expectations are always hard to fulfill. But, faith is not based upon expectations, but on a relationship with God. We must recognize the difference between the two. And place our expectations before God. (Not the other way around!)

Make a list of expectations you have of others, especially of the Church and its leaders? Take a moment and place those expectations before God. Do this for the next week. Then review your list. How have your expectations changed?