February: Matthew 4; Luke 4-5
After fasting in the wilderness and overcoming Satan’s temptations, Jesus returns to his hometown to begin his ministry and is asked to read at the synagogue in Nazareth. According to the Jewish scholar, Alfred Edersheim from “Sketches of Jewish Social Life” chapter 17, the synagogue at that time would have met every Monday, Thursday, and Sabbath. It would begin with the “Shema,” the same three scriptures repeated by the congregation. Then someone would stand at the ark and read from the scroll of the prophets. This could be any male over the age of thirteen but was most often someone revered and of good understanding. At the end of the reading, they would sit down and give an interpretation of the words.
When Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth, he was asked to read and give the “derashah” or sermon. He read from Isaiah 61:1-2, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of the sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” He sat and began his sermon which only consisted of nine words, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” (Luke 4:16-21) This may not had seemed blasphemous because until this point the deliverers had included Moses, Hezekiah and David. Daniel’s prophecy of the coming Messiah had no direct qualifiers that he would be divine, although there were many symbols and prophecies to point in that direction.
The initial reaction of the people was not entirely negative. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” and “wondered at his gracious words.” Then they asked him to perform a miracle like he had done at Capernaum, a much larger town over twenty miles away. In Luke, it would seem Jesus rebuts their entreaties almost immediately, but Matthew explains, “And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief.” (Matthew 13:58) It is Christ’s answer for not doing miracles that pushes this interaction out of control.
Galilee is at the uppermost portion of Palestine, bordering Syria and Phoenicia. Both were considered unclean and between the Danites and the zealots, the Galileans had been in a covert war with these people for generations. Uses both cultures to use as examples of individuals who have been righteous despite the place they live. He speaks of the widow of Sidon, which is in Phoenicia, that Elijah stayed with and made the crucible of oil continue. Then he spoke of Elisha healing the Syrian general Naaman. To be compared to these individuals who were not only gentiles but of the lands they hated, enraged Jesus’ listeners. They weren’t offended, they were simply angry. “All they in the synagogue, when they heard these things were filled with wrath.” (Luke 4:28-30.)
In their anger, they took Jesus and tried to throw him off a cliff but he “passing through the midst of them went his way.” Some take this to mean he became invisible to them. Others claim the people simply couldn’t recognize him anymore. For whatever reason, they could not constrain him, and Jesus left Nazareth, never to return.
If the people of Nazareth hadn’t become so angry, might a few have recognized their Savior? Richard G. Scott explained that strong emotions such as anger, hate, passion, fear, or pride can push away the spirit. Trying to feel truth while being filled with such emotion is like trying to taste “the delicate flavor of a grape while eating a jalapeno pepper.” (Richard G. Scott, “To Acquire Spiritual Guidance,” Ensign, Nov. 2009, pp. 6-9)
More recently, President Nelson has warned us to remove conflict from our lives. He said, “end the conflicts that are raging in your heart, your home and your life. Bury any inclination to hurt others—whether those inclination be a temper, a sharp tongue or resentment for someone who has hurt you.” (https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2022/04/47nelson?lang=eng)
Pres. Nelson ends by reminding us that to be the followers of Christ we need to set the example when it comes to ending personal conflicts and filling our hearts with love. It is only then that we can feel the spirit and shift our focus to see what others may be blind to. Can you imagine growing up with the Savior and not recognizing him? Yes! Too many born in the church suffer the same fate as the Nazarenes. If members don’t reach toward the Lord, listen with an open heart and find Him themselves, they could suffer the same fate.