Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

by Crossings

Luke 4:21-30
(Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany)
Analysis by Michael Hoy

21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” 23He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'” 24And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” 28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

DIAGNOSIS: Our Illness

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: Wanting Special Treatment
Whatever their perceptions of Jesus, his hometown crowd was at least willing to concede that he was someone they knew. Such knowing, in their estimation, surely warranted special treatment. We might recognize a bit of ourselves in this analysis. Sometimes we can think that because we are “in” with the right people we should have special treatment. This notion of “special treatment” plays itself out not only in our families, but in our workplaces, schools, political arenas, and even in our churches (surely, our church membership and attendance must count for something). Don’t we know more than a few of Jesus’ family secrets from our years of acquaintance in worship, bible studies, devotional times? Doesn’t that knowing itself guarantee a measure of secure support? Imagine our surprise to find out, like the people of Nazareth, that there are no such guarantees.

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: Raging Illness
All of us, of course, suffer from a raging illness–one that may become particularly inflamed if we are spurned from special treatment. When Jesus did not meet the expectation, “all in the synagogue were filled with rage” (v. 28). Why is it most evident that when the expectation of special treatment is not fulfilled that there is a strong sense that “fairness” has been violated? The so-called fairness does not need much scrutiny to discover its self-seeking basis. Nevertheless, such bullying tactics of expecting special treatment are often pursued today with a vengeance to the point of making it commonplace to think of our culture as litigious. And yet, self-seeking litigation is not even the ultimate raging illness that is deep within our soul. The really serious problem is that we are hostile to God, at least any God that would dare deny us what we think is our due.

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: Heal Thyself!
God, however, is not intimidated by such hostility. In fact, the denial of any special treatment is itself a litigation upon us. When the case is finally made for some special credits, even fairness, we are found most wanting. We don’t deserve any special treatment, except for the treatment of divine judgment–and that we get, often in the very silence of God. Heal thyself, if you can! Camus could see so much about the common plight of people in the tale of Sisyphus, where all are burdened with the task of not only watching out for themselves but are always doomed to fail. What Camus did not (could not) envision is that maybe God had made it that way. Our hostility is not so one-sided. God is hostile as well, and with good reason. That is our ultimate fate. “None of them (us)” are granted life.

PROGNOSIS: God’s Prescription for Healing

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: Jesus, the Healed Healer
So angry with Jesus was the hometown crowd that they drove him out of the town and led him up the brow of the hill. That would not be the last time for such a hostile act against Jesus. It would happen again outside Jerusalem. Jesus bears that hostility as God’s own representative. The added surprise, however, is that it does not stop him from his purpose. In fact, it fulfills it. Wounded unto death by our hostility, Jesus overcomes our hostility and is, in fact, healed (as has been recognized in his “passing through the midst of them and going on his way” in v. 30). The purpose of his being healed, however, is to be about his practice of healing raging souls by suffering and thereby overcoming the hostility (God’s and ours) through his death on the cross.

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: Cured
What cures the raging soul is the forgiveness that Jesus grants through his healing death and resurrection. When on the cross, he calls for such forgiveness from the Father (23:34). The divine exception of acceptance is Jesus’ to grant (vs. 26 & 27), and is granted to all who trust in him as their physician. Such healing carries the sting of the wound from our own dying self-centeredness. But the healing care that cancels our indebtedness to God makes us a people who have, indeed, been treated for all our iniquities.

Step 6–Advanced Prognosis: Healing
As those who have been healed by the Doctor of our souls, Jesus the Christ, we bring into the world a healing presence. It is a presence not to be bought and sold, anymore than it could be bought or sold by us through Christ’s own undergoing the surgery of death and resurrection. But it provides an “in” for all who are “out” with raging sores–to all who welcome by faith the balm of Christ’s mercy.


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