January 31 - Luke 4, 21-30

This Sunday we have the second half of a story Luke means to introduce in a schematical way the entire rest of his Gospel.  Jesus had explained the purpose of his Baptism, to announce a year which signaled God's good will, a year of beginning a new covenant of divine union with God's people.  Luke had earlier described Jesus' attractiveness to crowds and now has Jesus declare that he is the one to fulfill the expectations of Isaiah, to free people of all that keeps them from perfect happiness, especially from sin.

Now, our liturgy presents a different atmosphere from that of the earlier verses of last Sunday.  Yes, people seem to respond favorably to Jesus' word that "Isaiah is fulfilled today".  But, in schematic fashion, Luke has this postive turn to doubt: who is this Jesus really?  Jesus senses this growing doubt, a picture of what will be part of the fabric of his entire public life.  Jesus senses that his own will not accept him, or better, that they think they will accept him if he does miracles for them.  The Gospel will show, sadly, how even miracles did not lead many to faith in Jesus. 

For his part, Jesus chastises his audience for their lack of faith, noting that their refusal is a characteristic of human experience: the closest are the ones who are first to refuse.  Our liturgical reading emphasizes the punishment that refusal to believe in Jesus, and consequent refusal to repent as he asks will experience.  Elijah could do nothing for his own people, because of a drought God inflicted on His people for their refusal to believe and repent; only for a non-Jew would God offer salvation.  Similarly, God refused to heal sickness in Israel for Israel's sins; Elisha the prophet would be allowed to heal only a foreigner.  Cannot Israel see what it is bringing on itself, see what it will fail to possess, if it refuses Jesus?

The answer to Jesus' laments is the attempt to kill him.  Such will be the flow of the greater story to come: the response to Jesus will be the attempt to kill him.  Should he now escape 'by walking through their midst', Jesus' only escape in the full Gospel story will be his resurrection from the death imposed upon him by non-believers.  This entire story of Jesus, then, sums up what is to come in the Gospel, but in itself begins the beauty and tragedy of the Gospel: what God offers, what man offers.

John Kilgallen, SJ

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