Friday, November 18, 2011

The Hometown Frown

Jesus had a very busy day recently, which included being called Satanic, revealing the one unforgivable sin, revealing that the only sign to the wicked would be the sign of Jonah, disowning His biological family in favor of His spiritual one, and speaking a bunch of imperfect parables with the explicit purpose of keeping unwanted people out of the Kingdom of God. After a day like that, it is no wonder that Jesus was looking for a little hometown comfort.

The Hometown Frown
When you try to make sense of the chronology of the four Gospels, you can find some rather amusing anachronisms. It is too bad we do not have a WABAC machine to figure it all out with certainty. What is a WABAC? It is a time machine from a verbose, recurring segment in the 1960's cartoon The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. We are going to need to do a little virtual time travel in our study today. So, Sherman, set the WABAC machine to 30 AD, give or take a few years, as we begin the study with Luke 4:16-30.

According to Luke, right after Jesus was tempted by Satan, Jesus returned to the region of Galilee, and particularly the town in which He grew up, Nazareth. On the Sabbath, He went into the synagogue there, “as was His custom.” There, He read a prophesy from a scroll containing Isaiah 61 in front of everyone, reading verse Isaiah 61:1 and part of Isaiah 61:2, and then told everyone that that prophesy was now fulfilled (Luke 4:16-22).

Isaiah 61 is a rather interesting eleven-verse prophesy. Take a look, and you will find such highlights as ancient ruined cities being rebuilt (Isaiah 61:4), Gentiles doing manual labor for the Jews (Isaiah 61:5), Israel feeding off of the wealth of other nations and boasting in those riches (Isaiah 61:6), and subsequent generations of Jews being acknowledged by Gentile nations as being a people blessed by God due to God rewarding them (Isaiah 61:9). So you see, this prophesy exactly matches what happened with Jesus showing up, except for all of the details.

Continuing, Jesus goes on to chat about how the people of His hometown will disrespect Him, how a prophet has no acceptance in his hometown, and how Elijah and Elisha both helped out Gentiles despite there being a need for help among the Jews (Luke 4:23-27).

This angered everyone in the synagogue, so they tried to throw Jesus off a cliff outside of town, but Jesus somehow escaped right through the crowd (Luke 4:28-30). And that is it. Luke never records Jesus being back in Nazareth again, and apparently for good reason, if they were on the hunt to kill Him!

OK, so let us get back to the future, er, past, to catch up with Matthew's chronology. After Jesus was tempted by Satan, gathered disciples, gave the Sermon on the Mount, healed a leper, healed the Centurion's servant, healed others for prophesy, told a follower to leave behind his family obligations, calmed a storm, sent demons into pigs, healed a paralyzed man, snubbed some Pharisees, resurrected a dead girl, told His Disciples to remind God of the urgent need for harvesters, sent the Twelve Disciples out with instructions for their first mission, confirmed to John the Baptist that He was the Messiah, described how John the Baptist led the way and was Elijah, revealed that He could have saved Sodom if He had wanted to, revealed that God hides the truth from the learned, revealed God's selectivity in Salvation, called His “yoke” easy, inaccurately spoke about King David's sins, healed others again for prophesy, got called Satanic, revealed the unforgivable sin, spoke of the sign of Jonah, rejected His mother, and spoke in parables to keep people from understanding, yes, after all of that, He went to His hometown of Nazareth.

In Matthew 13:53-58 (and its parallel in Mark 6:1-6), you find Jesus just walking right into the synagogue and teaching on the Sabbath. Now, based on Luke's much earlier episode, you might think that the people in the synagogue would have immediately tried to detain and kill Jesus upon seeing Him in that very same place again, but that is not what happened. Matthew and Mark record that the audience was amazed at His wisdom and were asking rhetorically if this was really the same local man they all knew, as opposed to asking “hey, is this the guy we tried to throw off a cliff a while ago?”

Also in contrast between the Matthew/Mark account and the Luke story is that Luke, as noted above, stated that Jesus was a regular worshiper at the synagogue, and was learned respected enough to the point where He was handling Scriptural scrolls Himself and teaching from them, yet in Matthew/Mark the people in the synagogue cannot understand where He has gotten His knowledge of the Scriptures as if they had never heard Him discuss the Scriptures before. Clearly, this is a contradiction beyond just the botched chronology.

Matthew 13:57 and Mark 6:4 both state that Jesus said a prophet is without honor in his hometown and in his own house, with “his own house” obviously referring to the prophet's own family not honoring him. This is a confirmation of the earlier study where Jesus rejected His own biological family because they did not believe in Him. Meanwhile, Luke, the editor, drops the reference to the family, instead just noting that a prophet lacks hometown acceptance in general (Luke 4:24).

The Gospel of John is not completely left out. In John 4:44, Jesus says that a prophet gets no honor in his own country. The entire country! It appears John had a little scope creep. (Although note that the word interpreted as “own country” is sometimes used for hometown too.)

On a final note, Matthew 13:58 says that Jesus “did not” do many miracles there because of their lack of faith. Mark 6:5 says that Jesus “could not” do any miracles there other than healing and laying on hands. Logically, it appears that Jesus did not do many miracles because He could not due many miracles due to their lack of faith. Imagine that! God's omnipotence is powered by our willingness to believe that He is omnipotent.


  1. "God's omnipotence is powered by our willingness to believe that He is omnipotent."

    I think there's a Terry Prachett novel about this very thing, but the title escapes me.

  2. @Ahab
    I haven't read it, but based on the Wikipedia description, it sounds like you are referring to Little Gods, which appears to be a pretty interesting book. :-)