You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”
— From Thomas Wolfe’s 1940 novel You Can’t Go Home Again
“And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.”
— The prophet Jesus as quoted in Luke 4: 21-30
I’ve always been amused by Luke’s story about Jesus being (almost) chased off a cliff by the homeboys in Nazareth as told in Luke 4: 21-30. (Scroll down to read it.)
Jesus naturally goes down to the synagogue on the sabbath and proceeds to read the Old Testament prophet Isaiah’s (radical) vision of the good news.
At first, the homeys are cool with his reading. But then Jesus keeps connecting himself and his program to other biblical figures and stories. He makes it known that, essentially, he’s the one of whom Isaiah spoke all those hundreds of years ago.
He’s the one, he is telling them, who will bring “good news” to the poor and the outcasts that they, the religious leaders, exclude from their religious Boys Club.
Their initial pleasure with his reading of Isaiah now turns to rage and they go chasing after him like a pitchfork mob all the way to a cliff, where they might just send him tumbling.
But then, in an amusingly dramatic turn, the Jesus of NO FEAR does an about face and goes walking right back through the mob untouched.
If Dr. Luke came back today and sat on a cracker barrel and told us this story to our faces, I have no doubt that he’d give us a smile and a wink at the end of it. (The sly humor of biblical writers going all the way back to Genesis is so subtle as to be missed in all our earnest Bible study. I mean, a fig leaf of all things?)
In telling us this story of Jesus today, Luke would point out what is obvious: that these kinds of conflicts exist even today. We accept others as long as they act in lockstep with our ideas. As long as “they” look like us, think like us, act like us and believe what we believe.
Jesus found that “you can’t go home again” if you’re going to go out and get all radicalized by God’s love.
Here’s the story as told by Luke, by far the best writer of all those biblical writers:
Luke 4:16-30 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth
16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.
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[a] 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.