By: Fr. Gary Thurman
As seen in today’s Gospel, the citizens of Nazareth seem to have split personalities. At first they praise “hometown boy” Jesus and His message, then they get so mad at Him that they actually form a mob and try to kill him. What happened?
Jesus’ message had been from Isaiah 61: 1-2, a passage that proclaimed God’s love for all, even those in difficulty. However, the Pharisees had taught them that people in such situations were getting what they deserved - in other words, the blind were being punished by God for some sin or other, the poor were poor because of evil practices in their lives, and the captives were imprisoned by God to pay for some crime they had committed. With this mindset, to preach divine favor to these people was to bless unrighteousness, and God just did not do that! So the people began to ask each other, “Who is this? Isn’t He the son of Joseph and Mary, good people who understand the ways of God? Why, then, is He preaching God’s grace to those who do not deserve it?
So Jesus pressed the point even further. He reminded them of two examples in Israel’s past when God had blessed people who were not of Abraham’s lineage. The Sidonians were wicked people who practiced idolatry and many other serious sins, and yet God used a widow from among them (widows were considered under a curse, as well) to provide for the great prophet Elijah, Who later even raised her pagan son from the dead! He bypassed the many needy Israelite widows existing at that time, and blessed this Gentile!
Naaman was a captain of the Syrian army, an enemy of the Jews who had brought much misery to the Israelite people. He had even captured a young Israelite girl and made her his household slave. And yet, as Jesus says, we hear nothing of Elisha, Elijah’s successor with a double portion of his spirit, healing any Israelite of leprosy, only Naaman. Did that seem right?
This, then, is what turned the people’s heart against Jesus. They considered themselves to have an “exclusive” relationship with God, and no one else was allowed to squeeze in on their action! To bring the lowly Gentiles up to their level was not allowed, not even for a hometown hero.
We must guard ourselves against this Pharisaical attitude in our own lives. God’s love is much bigger than we think, and it is not just for us and those like us. Epiphany teaches us that outsiders, as well as prophets, can make known God’s love for all.