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Monday, September 03, 2007

The Challenge of Christ

In today's Gospel readings (Luke 4:16-30), Jesus appears to have deliberately provoked the angry response from his audience in the synagogue of Nazareth:

  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.
So it seems that the audience was largely approving at first, and then, one might object to the Lord's provoking words. A cross-reference to Mark 6:1-6, however, clarifies that they were already provoked to begin with:
  When the sabbath came he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished. They said, "Where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands! Is he not the carpenter, 3 the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him.
Perhaps it isn't presumptuous to consider the way Jesus reads the hearts of the people in his audience. Here he reads skepticism and perhaps a little contempt, that comes from familiarity. Not that any of us are exempt from such human reactions.

So, yes, the Lord seems to provoke the fury deliberately, but this is the challenging side of the gospel. The double-edged Word is presented as a dividing line between an open heart and one that is closed. Despite the works of Christ, he is greeted with skepticism. What then is left to say, except that the good news will now be given to more open hearts?

Lord! That today I may listen to your voice and harden not my heart!

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