I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. (Luke 4:25-28)
The home town crowd of this domesticated Jesus may have wished him to “do here what you did in Capernaum.” In other words, bring your show home, we want to be entertained too! Not to believe, but just to see what the fuss is about for ourselves—if you really are anything special, that is. They had their doubts. Our text from today is Jesus’ offensive, roundabout way of saying “no.”
Middle Eastern cultural scholar, Ken Bailey notes how Nazareth was located in “Galilee of the Gentiles” as a Jewish enclave. A sort of frontier settler town, really, with a very nationalistic bent. In Jesus’ reading of Isaiah from the scroll that began this whole scene, he had omitted key sections about judgement against the Gentiles. And now he presumes to tell these nationalistic folks that God’s salvation is for foreigners.
Jesus is drawing some very clear and stark lines here, and not in the places that his home-town crowd would’ve liked them drawn. Clearly, Jesus was no longer one of them. He had broken faith with their interpretation of their Bibles. They envisioned a wrathful God that they could employ to fight their battles against their foreign, gentile neighbours. Jesus proclaims to them a Biblical God who heals and saves indiscriminately, sometimes even choosing foreigners in preference over his own people. What a slap in the face!
But also, what a counter-cultural gift for those who might have the ears to hear it. God is bigger than our own use for him. Jesus is too. Jesus is about much more than acting as our own personal body guard, mercenary, or vending machine. He doesn’t play that role for our countries either, no matter how good and civilized we may think them to be.
You never can quite contain or box-in the Sovereign Lord. Otherwise he wouldn’t be very sovereign, would he? He does new things and things that are calibrated to his notions of justice, righteousness, flourishing, not ours.
So always, always again we are invited, especially by these strange, counter-cultural words of Jesus to stop trying to submit God to our will, and to submit to his instead. That is an invitation to humble ourselves, open our eyes and ears, and be attentive to the surprising ways that He might move or speak so that instead of using God to build our kingdoms, we might follow him into his kingdom: because he is our Lord and Sovereign King.