Luke 4:21-30


This, of course, will not be the last time words and wits will fail Jesus' opponents and they will resort to violence.

Year C
Epiphany 4

Sunday between January 28 and February 3 inclusive

May be replaced by Transfiguration Sunday if the assigned date is the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday.

Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Luke 4:21-30, The Message   or   Luke 4:21-30, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

Permission is granted for non-profit use of these materials. Acknowledgement in oral presentations is not required. Otherwise, please acknowledge source as, "David Ewart,"


In my not so humble opinion, the authors of the lectionary give us preachers a difficult task by splitting a single story into two passages, last week's proclamation of Good News, Luke 4:14-21, and this week's - the reaction. The whole point of "Gospel" is that it must be both proclaimed AND heard to be fulfilled.

By splitting these, the Lectionary seems to suggest we can blather away proclaiming all we want without bothering about being heard. Or, we can listen endlessly without bothering about really hearing.

Whereas the point of Luke 4:14-30 is that proclaiming and hearing must be seamless in order for the Good News to be fulfilled. 

This week's lesson begins with last week's punch line.

The key to understanding this lesson is to imagine the tone of voice in Verse 22:
            All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words
            that came from his mouth.
            They said, "Is this not Joseph's son?" 

Amazed - as in: Wonder? Excitement? Appreciation? Proud? Gee, isn't he something! Look how well one of our own is doing! Why, I knew him when ... Or ...

Amazed - as in: Hallelujah! Finally! Here is the Holy One who will fulfill these ancient hopes from the days of Isaiah! Or ...

Amazed - as in: Wow! Just who does he think he is! Look who's got too big for his britches! Who's thinking he's holier than us? Or ...

Amazed - as in: What did he just say? Isn't he really saying that these words of Isaiah haven't been fulfilled so far because we haven't actually been hearing them? Just who does he think he is to talk to us like that?

While most English translations seem to opt for the first two, we can see that others change "spoke well of him" to a more neutral "bore witness" (KJV) or "watching and listening" (MSG) which is the Greek root; and choose "wonder," (KJV and NASB) "surprise," (MSG), "marvel" (TEV), or "astonished" (NJB) to describe the crowd's reaction to Jesus' words.

Malina and Rohrbaugh (page 243, see footnote below) help correct the possible interpretations:

In asking if Jesus is Joseph's son, the synagogue participants are cutting him down to size. They are questioning how such honorable teaching could come from one born to a lowly artisan. This exchange has often puzzled Western commentators who fail to understand the magnitude of the insult implied by the question.

Verse 23. Having heard the question about his parentage (and also keenly aware of the gossip that would still be circulating about him NOT being Joseph's son), Jesus begins to reply to their hostile question with an equally hostile reply.

Note the fore-shadowing of "Doctor, heal yourself" with the later taunt for Jesus to save himself from death and shame on the cross. And recall the demand to prove himself now with the earlier test to turn stones into bread - which Jesus must honourably refuse to do.

Recall that in Jesus' day it was DIShonourable to boast, to seek fame and celebrity, to deliberately do anything for the purpose of drawing attention to oneself. So when anyone who has only heard the second-hand gossip about the things Jesus has done then demands that he do them in their sight - Jesus has to refuse because that would be dishonourable. However. As a worthy Son, Jesus must defend the honour of God, because it is God who ascribed honour to Jesus by declaring, "You are my Son, the Beloved." (Verse 3:22) So. Throughout all 4 Gospels, whenever Jesus is verbally accosted / challenged with hostile questions or demands, he - honourably - vigorously responds in the only socially accepted manner - with verbally hostile questions of his own.

Verses 25 to 27 then provide 2 illustrations from Scripture of the adage in Verse 24:
            Outsiders are better able to judge the honour of a prophet
            than those who know him best.

            Malina and Rohrbaugh, page 243

Jesus' response has so thoroughly insulted and dishonoured the crowd that he has left them speechless. Which is a dangerous thing to do, since the only thing left to defend their honour is to take action. Which the crowd does. Malina and Rohrbaugh comment (pages 273-74):

(While) the death of the challenger is sometimes a worthy response to public dishonor, an over-quick resort to violence is often an unintended public admission of failure. In (verbal) honor challenges, the party that first resorts to violence loses the exchange: a resort to violence indicates that wits have failed and bully tactics have taken over. Here the crowd tries to throw Jesus off a cliff.

This, of course, will not be the last time words and wits will fail Jesus' opponents and they will resort to violence.

Nor will it be the last time Jesus will pass through the midst of them and be on his way. Though, unlike this time where Luke offers no further elaboration, that last time has led to generations of amazement, wonder, marvel, surprise, and astonishment.

As we listen to this text today, it is important to go back to the opening Verse 21:

Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

and really hear Jesus' implied challenge:

And the reason it hasn't been fulfilled so far is because you have not really been willing to really hear it / live it.

Good News is just so much talk if it is only spoken; even the words of the Bible must be actually lived to be transformed into Good News.

David Ewart,,
Short, easy to use, faith inspiring explanations of the meaning of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John for your sermon, homily, bible study, or reflection.

Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, pages 242-244, 273-274; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al. 

Luke 4:21-30 (NRSV)

   21 Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." 22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" 23 He 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.'" 24 And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. 25 But 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; 26 yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27 There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." 28 When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29 They 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. 30 But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.  

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Luke 4:21-30 (The Message)

   21 Then he started in, "You've just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place."

   22 All who were there, watching and listening, were surprised at how well he spoke. But they also said, "Isn't this Joseph's son, the one we've known since he was a youngster?"

   23 He answered, "I suppose you're going to quote the proverb, 'Doctor, go heal yourself. Do here in your hometown what we heard you did in Capernaum.' 24 Well, let me tell you something: No prophet is ever welcomed in his hometown. 25 Isn't it a fact that there were many widows in Israel at the time of Elijah during that three and a half years of drought when famine devastated the land, 26 but the only widow to whom Elijah was sent was in Sarepta in Sidon? 27 And there were many lepers in Israel at the time of the prophet Elisha but the only one cleansed was Naaman the Syrian."

   28 That set everyone in the meeting place seething with anger. 29 They threw him out, banishing him from the village, then took him to a mountain cliff at the edge of the village to throw him to his doom, 30 but he gave them the slip and was on his way.  

Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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