Today is the memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas, a Doctor of the Church, and medieval scholastic philosopher and theologian. His best-known works are the Disputed Questions on Truth, the Summa contra Gentiles, and the unfinished but influential Summa Theologiae. The first reading for the memorial is from the Book of Wisdom. There are commentaries a plenty on the whole of the book and I would not attempt such a effort, but I would note that, (a) besides being a great source of a reading to honor St. Thomas, (b) it has importance for our times.
For several days we looked at the perils of being a “hometown prophet.” In today’s exploration of this coming Sunday gospel, we will see the “blowback” from the people.
28 When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. 29 They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went away
The people of Nazareth began to act on their rage and drive Jesus out of town. The end of this scene is so condensed that interpreters have often felt the need to fill in conjectural details. The scene in question cannot be located with any certainty. Nor is it necessary to speculate about a miraculous deliverance or the force of Jesus’ personality or presence. The intent of the crowd was hostile, but Luke emphasizes that Jesus was not stopped by them. The emphasis is on the last word, which in the Greek text is a verb that implies a continuous action: “He was going on,” The verb (poreuomai) recurs frequently in Luke as the Gospel narrates the journeys that eventually lead Jesus to Jerusalem and the cross.” [Culpepper, 108]
As they were herding Jesus out of town to kill him, he slipped away. In Luke’s Gospel, he never returned to Nazareth. The next passage, just beyond the ending of our reading for today, tells of Jesus returning to Capernaum and again doing great and wonderful things there, and the reports of him circulated throughout the country (4:37, 43-44). The contrast could not be greater. Those who should have known his mission and participated in it, those who knew him best, could see no further than their own wants and their own interests. They drove him out because he not only had dared to share the good news with others, he had brought them face to face with their own narrowness and closed future.
Over this story falls the shadow of the cross, for this will not be the last time that Jesus would take the good news to others who are not the “hometown folks.” And it will not be the last time by doing so that he would confront those who should know better with their own lack of vision and narrow exclusiveness. He will again be rejected by his own people.
Luke is clearly foreshadowing the crucifixion here. But he also has in mind the larger mission of the church in the world. Jesus came to his own, yet they did not accept him (cf. John 1:11-12). But he came not just to his own, but to the whole world. It was precisely because he came to others that his own people did not accept him. They wanted him to themselves, or not at all.
The proclamation of Jesus’ Good News began in Nazareth’s synagogue. But they did not stop the story by rejecting Jesus there. It moved from there throughout Galilee to Jerusalem. And even though they rejected Jesus in Jerusalem, and even succeeded in killing him there, they did not stop the story. It would be played out in Acts, as the apostles and followers of Jesus also suffered rejection at the hands of those who should know better. But they did not stop the Good News. It simply moved on to Judea, to Samaria, and to the farthest reaches of the Earth (Acts 1:7). The Good News that Jesus read about and proclaimed that day in Nazareth, the mission that he defined, was carried out in spite of rejection.
- Culpepper, R. Alan. “The Gospel of Luke.” New Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. 9. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994–2004) 102–109
Scripture quotes taken from New American Bible