Wed, January 26, 202210 mins readFather Hans Buob

4th Sunday

Biblical Homilies on the Sunday Gospels in Reading Year C

Bible passages


Luke 4, 21-30

He said to them, "Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, "Isn't this the son of Joseph?" He said to them, "Surely you will quote me this proverb, 'Physician, cure yourself,' and say, 'Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.'" And he said, "Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away.

Biblical Homilies


"Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing" (cf. verse 21).

As we have already considered in last Sunday's Gospel, Jesus came to his homeland at the beginning of his public ministry. We have already seen what this arrival means: Everything he says now has meaning for his own life, and for the time of the Church until its completion.

At the beginning it says in Greek: "ηρξατο λεγειν". This sentence can easily be read over, but it contains a very important statement. "λεγειν" in Greek is "the beginning." But Jesus does not just start to tell anything, he now makes the beginning of his proclamation. Now begins his messianic appearance, which ends in his death. The Greek "γραφη" for scriptural word means a scriptural fulfillment and specifically a promise word related to Christ. "Today," then, this Christ-promise has been fulfilled. And this "today" (Σημερον) is not meant historically, but it remains: It is the fulfillment of a promise. It is still today, even now. So the promise that "you have just heard" is present, literally it means: present in your ears, i.e. it has been fulfilled in Christ.

And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, "Isn't this the son of Joseph?" (cf. verse 22)

Whereas the standard translation says, "they marveled at how graciously he spoke," the original Greek literally says, "They marveled at the words of grace that came out of his mouth." This is a crucial difference. About a politician, for example, one can say: this is a gifted speaker, he has a gift for speaking. But to have "words of grace" is something decisively different than to simply "only" speak giftedly. It is about this word of grace that only Jesus can speak.

That is why the word that produces grace, that produces faith, comes first. And that is why also the listeners in the synagogue are amazed at the words of grace that come out of Jesus' mouth. So it is the word that is decisive! Miracles, on the other hand, only help those who have already begun in faith. How many signs and wonders happen all over the world. For example, the heart of St. Teresa of Avila, which is in a glass jar, still gets so hot that the jar melts - even today, after 400 years. And there are countless other miracles and signs in the world. Any atheist could read up on them, but it would not make him a believer. That is why this word of promise, which is fulfilled in Christ, is so important. But this word of grace is the Holy Scripture. Today, we must again have more courage to share with people the word of Scripture, this word of grace that produces faith.

Interesting then is the question of the Nazarenes, who seem to be so enthusiastic about Jesus: "Is this not the son of Joseph?" Here something ambiguous is mixed into the enthusiastic astonishment. The applause does not seem so clear, but already contains first doubts.

He said to them, "Surely you will quote me this proverb, 'Physician, cure yourself,' and say, 'Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.'" (cf. verse 23)

Even Jesus does not miss this ambiguity of the applause and he immediately exposes it by his words. In John 1:46 we find the - rhetorical - question of Nathanael: "From Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?" This indicates that Nazareth and its inhabitants did not have a particularly good reputation in Israel. The exhortation, "Physician, heal yourself!" (v. 23) would then mean, referring to Jesus: Surely you too are a Nazarene. You have the same bad reputation as we do, because you come from Nazareth. Then do signs here too and heal yourself and us, so that we get a better reputation.

Jesus therefore reveals very clearly to his listeners through the scriptural word what they are thinking in their hearts, what doubts they have, which they express in this question: "Is this not the son of Joseph?" (v. 22) The turnaround from the initial approval to the increasing rejection up to the attempted murder, is caused by this challenge of Jesus.

And he said, "Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian." (cf. verse 24-27)

If Jesus' answer was already difficult to digest up to this point, the following had to provoke his listeners even more. For Jesus, using the example of Elijah and Elisha, now points to the prophets who are not valid in their homeland and therefore go to the Gentiles.

Here in Nazareth, Jesus sets out his whole program of life and with it the whole program of the Church, namely, first to proclaim the Word of God, the Word of grace, and then to work the signs that are, as it were, concomitants of this proclamation: Miracles, healings and exorcisms of demons. And then Jesus extends his mission beyond the chosen people of Israel. Not only Israel is the target of his mission, but the Gentiles, i.e. the whole world. An outrageous provocation for every believing Jew!

When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away (cf. verse 28-30).

The reaction of the listeners in the synagogue shows very clearly where the way of Jesus will go: Already here the gospel becomes a passion story. They want to kill him. And this is also the final destination of his journey, namely Jerusalem, where death and resurrection await him. Here, then, the word of the aged Simeon, spoken to Mary when she brought Jesus to the temple, is already fulfilled: "And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary the mother of Jesus, This man is destined that in Israel many should fall by him, and that many should be raised up; and he shall be a sign that is contradicted. Through this the thoughts of many shall be made manifest." (Luke 2,34f.)

This process of being convicted, which Jesus carries out here, is now set in motion by Christ and his reality, and it continues to this day. Therefore, Christ will always be persecuted, in his members. Wherever Christians consciously live their Christianity, they are persecuted, even within Christianity itself. They are mocked, taken for fools, etc. All this has begun in this scene and will continue until the return of Christ. It is important that we keep realizing this so that we know what we are up against: that there will be no red carpets rolled out for us when we come, but that we will be threatened, even to the point of death, whether it be spiritual (e.g. character assassination) or very specifically physical death. This is what we as determined Christians have to reckon with today and also in the future!

The spirit that Jesus sent us and that is alive in him and in the church convicts the world and clearly names what sin, righteousness and judgment are. But the world does not want to know about these things. Therefore, it attacks Christ in His Church, in His members and in His Body.

The people of Nazareth expected an earthly advantage. They want to lose their bad reputation. But Jesus' reference to Capernaum already points to the future, namely that he will be rejected by his own people and received by the strangers, the Gentiles, as it is then clearly shown by the missionary activity from the early church until today. For Jesus will also pronounce a clear judgment on Capernaum one day: "And you, Capernaum, do you think you will be raised up to heaven? No, you will be cast down to the underworld. If the miracles had happened in Sodom that happened in you, it would still be standing today." (Mt 11:23) But this is exactly what people are always looking for today: Signs and wonders. When and how do we pray? Do we pray out of love for God, as an expression of being close to Him and grateful to Him for His redemptive act, out of joy and devotion to Him? Or do we pray only when we want something from God - and when we don't want anything, he no longer interests us?

This event in Nazareth is therefore not simply a historical past, but it is present and also future. It already indicates how Jesus' life on earth will end one day. But since his hour, his taking up to the cross, has not yet come, Jesus mysteriously escapes his murderers in Nazareth. He simply walks away through their midst and no one can harm him. Jesus goes away and wanders on as he is commanded. For the way of Jesus is from the beginning a way of wandering, that is, a way to the cross and to heaven. ∎