Nazareth

“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read.” (Luke 4:16 NIV)

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He couldn’t have said, really, why he had come:
perhaps to visit his mother;
he hadn’t seen her in most of a year,
and their parting had been hard—
perhaps just because Nazareth was next
in the circuit of the towns he had been making,
because he hadn’t been back yet, since his baptism,
since his encounter with himself
and with his God in the desert, and because,
in a way,
he might never really know himself fully
until he had been tested in his own home,
until he had tested himself
against those who knew him well.

At any rate,
he found himself in the synagogue there,
on the Sabbath,
as was his habit wherever he was,
to read and to pray,
to say whatever his Father gave him to say,
to speak the word of life into
the lives of those gathered there…
who knew…perhaps even to heal,
and he opened the scroll of the prophet Isaiah
to that day’s passage, and, of course, it would be…

“The spirit of the Lord is on me
because he has anointed me to preach
good news to the poor, release to the captives,
new sight for the blind; to set the oppressed free
and announce the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he was humbled all over again,
shocked back into himself,
stunned that his Father could reach
out and shape his life like that,
could ask this of him, even here, in his own home.

And he rolled the scroll and handed it back
to the attendant, sat slowly,
with all their eyes upon him,
took a deep breath and, with his heart in his mouth,
said,
“In your sight and in your hearing,
today,
these words are made true.”

He didn’t know exactly what he expected,
but it was not that they would sit there smiling
at him and nodding, as though he just made
a particularly insightful remark on the weather
or the future of the wool trade.
“The carpenter’s son you know,
old Joseph as was down the way…”
“such wisdom in one so young…”
“listen to how well he reads it…
he was always, even in school,
ahead of his years…”
(“and full of himself with it too,”
someone inserted in a low voice.)
“Is it any wonder they are talking
about him all through the ten towns…?

“A Nazareth boy you know, born and breed.”
“It is a wonder,” said someone more bold,
“considering no one knows who his father really is…”
The speaker spat. “Born in sin.”

“Yes, murmured another,
“and see where all this talk of his father God…
that’s his mother’s doing, mark my words,
she as was no better than she ought to be
and Joseph too good to her by far, if you ask me…
see where it will get him.
What’s become of John, that Baptist fellow,
I ask you…
no good comes of any of these jumped-up,
self-styled prophets.
There’s no profit in prophecy these days,
I say we don’t need any prophets in Israel today.”

And their little group tittered.
“Why I remember him as a boy,” said the first,
“so full of airy nonsense he couldn’t
be trusted to watch sheep,
and suddenly he’s the savior of our nation?
I ask you?”

“But listen to what he says,” said a neighbor,
“You can hear the truth in his words, can’t you…
you can hear God speaking if you listen,
and he has done wonders they say,
all up and down Galilee.”
and he hitched himself away from them,
closer to the immediate circle surrounding Y’shua,
eager to hear more.

And Y’shua, by now, was ready to give them an earful.
He wanted to shout at them all:
“Didn’t you hear what I just said?
I just put myself into Isaiah’s words,
claimed, right here in front of you,
the anointing of the Holy God.
Are you going to let me get away with that?
You sit and smile, or snicker and sneer,
but do any of you even hear what I am saying,
see what I am doing, see me at all?”

But he didn’t say that. Instead, he said,
“Undoubtedly you will quote the proverb to me:
‘Physician, heal yourself.’
You will say,
‘do here the miracles you did in Capernaum.’”

The sudden silence told him
he had their attention now. Dark looks passed.
They didn’t know where this was going
(and, to be honest, neither did he).

“I tell you,” he said, and he couldn’t help himself,
“a prophet is without honor nowhere but in his own home,
among his own relatives and those who claim to love him.”

Now they knew they were being insulted.
A few were up on their knees already.

“I tell you the truth,” he said,
“there were widows enough in Israel in Elijah’s day,
when the sky was shut for three and a half years
and there was hunger all through the land,
but Elijah was not sent to any of them,
but to a woman of Zarephath in Sidon.”

It was a slap in the face.
He could not have picked an example
more calculated to offend these good,
synagogue-attending, well-respected Jews of Nazareth,
and, with half his mind, he wondered at himself,
and, with half, he questioned his father:
“how will they ever hear me if I insult them?”

But he was compelled now,
compelled to make them face the truth,
to strip them of every pretense,
to make them look at him, at themselves,
to force their comprehension, or, failing that,
their anger, to get some honest response from them,
some movement, some change…

So he said, raising his voice over
the growing grumble of outrage…
“And there were many lepers in Israel
in the time of Elisha the prophet,
yet not one of them were healed;
only Naaman the Syrian.”

Now they were really angry,
angry with the righteous anger of the true sons of Jacob,
the descendents of Abraham, God’s chosen…
insulted in their very idea of who they were…
and they rushed forward, tripping over themselves,
and Y’shua was, just as quickly, on his feet and retreating,
driven out of the synagogue door and down
the street in front of what was now a mob,
driven up the hill out of town to the edge of the cliff there,
until, with his back to the fall, on the brink of the drop,
he stopped, faced them, faced them down,
catching each eye as he had once or twice before as a boy,
simply looked at them, now with compassion and love—
such sorrow—
until they looked away in shame,
and he walked back through them,
wondering, not for the first time, and not for the last,
why he had to be so hard on them,
why he asked so much, why he couldn’t just be,
even here in his home, who they wanted him to be?

Not wanting, no, not for a moment, even now,
to hear the truth in his own words.

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