23 January 2007

The Gospel reading for the Sunday coming up is the end of the Nazareth sermon episode in Luke 4:21-30.

Over the past 25 years or so, everyone's been much more interested in the first half of the passage, which has all sorts of overtones of the Year of Jubilee and social action and so on. Maybe for a preacher in the late 20th century that's where the substance of the pericope lies.

For the storyteller and narrative critic though, the first part of the story is only what we would expect after the build-up placed on Jesus in chapters 1-3. All the surprises and curiousities are here in the second part: the people speak well of him but he seems to deliberately alienate them; after the nationalism voiced in the early chapters (cf Zecheriah's song) Jesus goes out of his way to renounce it; when their hopes are rebutted the people's attitude turns hostile and murderous (prefiguring some pretty important events later on in Luke's two-volume work).

Here's a bit I find very curious historically. In verse 30, where they intend to kill him but he passed through the midst of them and went on his way, I think Luke must intend us to see something supernatural going on. He also probably intends us to eventually parallel this with his yielding to his foes in the Garden of Gethsemane later. But note the preceding verse. He doesn't do this walking through their midst trick until after he has allowed them to drive him out of the town and onto this brow of a hill. Narratively this is useful and much more dramatic as well as explicit foreshadowing. But is that why the historical Jesus played it this way (assuming that, like me, you believe that the episodes in the gospels happened the way that they're described)?

The turn in this crowd's mood highlights the curious and uncomfortable knife-edge borderline between this mob and the one that he knew wanted to make him king by force (John 6:15). From that crowd, too, he withdrew and went his own way -- a way, ironically, that included both being killed and being king.
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