The Nazareth scene follows a nail-biter–warfare between the would-be son of God, and the ruler of the world.  Jesus fasted in a parched desert, and for forty days he wrestled with temptation.  At his baptism, a mysterious voice declared him to be the son of God (this is an allusion to kingship and not divinity), Jesus must now sift through differing ways of being king–in his day, there were Herodians who colluded with Rome, anti-Roman groups that resorted to violence, the escapists Essenes who found neither Roman rule nor Jewish rule to be legitimate, or one of the other “messianic” movements.  Yet, in every temptation Satan threw his way, he rejected, he would not exercise rule through any of the outlets Satan offered him, and afterwards heads back to his hometown in Nazareth (Luke 4:1-14).  How exactly would Jesus exercise rule?  How exactly will the rule of God come, what will it look like?  A clue is recorded in the Synagogue scene in Nazareth.  He enters into the synagogue, opens to Isaiah 61 and reads:

 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, 
   because he has anointed me 
   to proclaim good news to the poor. 
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners 
   and recovery of sight for the blind, 
to set the oppressed free, 
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)[1]

He rolls up the scroll and exclaims that these very events are coming true (v 20).  The people “marvel at his graceful words.” Kenneth Bailey in his brilliant piece “Jesus Through Mediterranean Eyes,” believes with Jeremias that emartyoun auto is better rendered, “they witnesses against him” instead of “they marveled at his words.” He then argues persuasively for this rendering, assuming that the Nazareth, a conservative Jewish town, wouldn’t have liked how he didn’t cite “and the day of vengeance of our God” (Isaiah 61:2), instead he inserts Isaiah 58:6 “to set the oppressed free” . They both seem to be on to something, but for convenience, I’ll stick to the traditional rendering. As you’ll see, the rest of the story will bring out conservative nationalism either way.

The Aramaic Targum–a sort of expanded paraphrase–gives us insight on how Isaiah 61 was understood as God’s retribution to the nations: You shall eat the possession of the Gentiles, and in their glory you shall be indulged. Instead of being ashamed and confounded two for one the benefits I promise I will bring to you and the Gentiles will be ashamed who were boasting in their lot.  This was the national aspiration of Israel, especially of conservative Nazareth.  Jesus’ scandalous application will cut against the grain of Nazareth’s national identity, and provoke a howling mob.

Israel was hoping for a climax of a long story that began in the Exodus, which would find its denouement in God becoming king in Jerusalem, and the pagans either being destroyed and/or worshiping YHWH.  In anticipation of this glorious end, they waited for an eschatological Jubilee (Jubilee of end times), where slaves would be set free, Debt forgive, and land returned to rightful owners (The Jews would have seen Roman occupation as a threat to Jubilee, restoring land would have necessitated removal of Roman rule, and debt) (Leviticus 25). Here comes the twist, Jesus takes the Jewish hopes and dreams and dashes them like a potsherd.

After anticipating that the Jews would narrowly apply these promises to themselves “What you did in Capernaum do in your own town,” he commences to turns their exclusivism on its head and includes people in the Jubilee blessings that were not expected:

I tell you the truth, a prophet is not accepted in his hometown.  But I tell you the truth, there were many widows in Israel during the time of Elijah. It did not rain in Israel for three and one-half years, and there was no food anywhere in the whole country. But Elijah was sent to none of those widows, only to a widow in Zarephath, a town in Sidon. And there were many with skin diseases living in Israel during the time of the prophet Elisha. But none of them were healed, only Naaman, who was from the country of Syria.” (Luke 4:24-27)

Instead of the folks of Nazareth finding their vindication, Jesus claims that good news, liberty, and the year of YHWH favor would be shown to non- Jews. Both the Widow’s story and Naaman’s story are evoked from scripture.  Naaman is particularly scandalous considering the implications.

The story of Naaman is a beautiful picture of loving your enemy (2 Kings 5) Syria was Israel’s biggest threat at the time and their political enemy. Naaman, basically, a terrorist–think Osama Bin Laden, kidnapped Israelites and enslaved them. Yet when this terrorist becomes ill the Israelite slave girl takes seriously the admonition to love the foreigner as God does (Deut 10:17-19). It took the love of God for this brave young lady to seek the good of her captor. Elisha, instead of turning him away, “baptizes” him (all the while Naaman is making racist comments about how his water is better!) and as he complains the servants lovingly persuade him to follow the prophet of Israel so that he can get well. If God would heal Naaman, a terrorist, would he not do the same for others?

The implications were obvious, starling and offensive.  The enemy of their day was none other than Rome.  Jesus throws cold water on the Jews ever kindling wrath.  He emerged out of the desert temptation with a crisp and clear understanding of God’s rule–love.  Taking up the cross and loving, even your enemies. Thus, Jesus rejected violence and war, he rejected collusion, and he rejected escapism–but marched head on into the heart of the beast.

He would allow the super power of his time to do its worst to him, to take its mightiest symbol (the ability to squelch resistance and showcases it’s power at every crucifixion), all the while loving them, even asking for their forgiveness.  It is in this way–bearing a cross, dying, and being vindicated by God–that Paul concluded the powers of this world have been “disarmed” and made a “spectacle (Colossians 2:15).

But back to the story,

“When all the people in the synagogue heard these things, they became very angry.” So angry, in fact, that they tried to throw him off a cliff, but Jesus slipped from their grasp.(Luke 4:28-30). Fast-forward to the present day.  Ominous News feeds warn of terrorism, Liberals and conservatives propose war as a means of peace, and citizens chant: “America, America, America” is the greatest country; the whole earth is full of its glory[2].  But the Messiah’s voice pierces through the chants of zealotry, saying “love your enemy.” God’s rule–the only real rule–does not come through nukes, bullets or rocks.  It calls for an inclusive love that, erases racial and national boundaries. Those we think are our enemies need to hear the good news, have their debt forgiven, and be released from their prisons and injustices too…Love your enemies, Christians…love your enemies.

[1] Matthew and Mark simply say “Repent for the kingdom of heaven/God is arriving”

[2] Such praise is do to God alone, nationalism is idolatry (Isaiah 6:1-6).  These very same things can be said of every country, and to the Middle Eastern nations who constantly are at each others throats, but I write as an American, to my fellow Americans.