And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:20-22 ESV)
One of the many perplexing things Jesus does is His criticism of Nazareth. It’s also recorded in Matthew 13:54-58 and Mark 6:1-6. In those passages, there’s not much detail about Jesus reading Isaiah, nor about His response to their response. No one tries to throw Him off a cliff either.
This account in Luke is more detailed, explaining the reason the people took offense at Jesus, but the problem they had with Him seems to be the same: He’s familiar to them in another role. They knew Him as Joseph’s son, as their carpenter, as the little kid running around the village all those years. We say, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’, and it may, but it also creates very robust paradigms that often fail to adapt to change.
FOCUS ON THE CARPENTER
I think there are two things that happen which bring about Jesus’ criticism of His home town. The first of these is their attention to the wrong thing. In the synagogue, Jesus stands to read, selects this passage, reads it, and then sits down. Everyone is watching Him, totally focused. Yet when He explains the passage as fulfilled in Him, or implies it, they miss it completely.
The passage from Isaiah 61 refers to the return of captives to the promised land and the restoration of the faithful people of Israel on the world stage. It really doesn’t seem to happen that way when they return home, and greatness isn’t really achieved in the imagery used by Isaiah. Yet Jesus’ ministry includes these images used by Isaiah. He does complete the things promised by the prophet. But the people in Nazareth focus on the wrong thing. They can’t visualize or accept Jesus outside their existing point of view of Him.
They focus as He sits. He says He fulfills the passage. The people hear, “The scandalous kid-carpenter proclaims that God will bless Israel.” Wouldn’t that be cool? Israel could really use a blessing. No one seems to make the connection that Jesus fulfills the prophecy. They cannot see Jesus as anything other than the carpenter-son of Joseph.
A FAILURE TO ADAPT
The second thing the people do is fail to adapt. The element that prevents most people from receiving the blessings of God is a failure to repent. Here the people are criticized, but then are offended. How dare this whelp who is one of them claim that it’s their fault that they aren’t blessed like the other places Jesus ministers. Who is he to criticize them? And therein lies the problem.
Jesus tried. He tried to teach them that He was not who they assumed He was. But rather than adapt their paradigm, or better, exchange it for a whole new one, they clung to what they thought they knew. Repentance is a word referring to a ‘change of mind’. It means exchanging how we think for how God thinks. It happens when we believe what God says in Scripture, and begin to think about things from God’s perspective. But there is real danger involved, and many fail to take the perilous leap of faith.
I do the same thing all the time. How many times have I said, ‘You just don’t understand’ to someone trying to help me re-frame my problems? There is safety perceived in the ruin I’ve been living in so long. Sure it’s ugly, and it isn’t very effective at either protection or comfort, but I know every out-of-place brick and stick. What God has for me is much different. His perspective looks at this world very differently, and things that captivate my mind and heart aren’t that important to Him.
Jesus said to His family and friends, “I’m the One you’ve been waiting for, come to Me for healing.” But they looked at their carpenter, and said, “Isn’t he a nice boy. I love that he encourages us and others.” They heard encouragement, gracious words, and He held out change of life and healing. He stood before them as the Savior, but they still only saw the carpenter. How often does our familiarity with Jesus breed contempt in our hearts for the change and repentance He brings?
It isn’t bad to encourage, but Jesus brings transformation. It isn’t bad to offer encouragement, but so much better to offer healing. But healing means that we no longer operate in our infirmities. Transformation means we are no longer as we are. I know what I am isn’t what I should be, but I want to change, I don’t want to be changed. The problem I seek to solve is the problem where I’m part of the solution. The people of Nazareth didn’t want a Jesus who saves their souls, they wanted the talented carpenter now teaching others. They wanted the comforting familiar rather than the uncomfortable reality they missed.
The question we need to answer is ‘Are we ready to adapt to the God revealing Himself in Scripture?’ Because the God of Scripture wants to transform us. So part of the adaptation is surrender to the changes He wants to make in our lives. It means letting go of the stuff we have, letting Him bring the stuff He wants, and living completely dependent on the whims of an unfathomable Creator. Only then does the Creator become the Savior we need. So, who’s in?
That’s my view through the knothole. It’s one of many, so what’s yours?