August 15, 2009

The Nazareth Synagogue - 1

Around late summer of 29 AD, near the start of his public ministry in Galilee, Jesus went home to Nazareth. Only Luke records this particular visit, which is clearly a different event from the (far less dramatic) occasion recorded by Matthew & Mark. According to Luke, the Jews at the Nazareth Synagogue had recently heard about Jesus' time in Capernaum, including some miracles he'd performed, and that Jesus had begun teaching in Synagogues.

So Jesus comes into the Nazareth Synagogue one Saturday, as had been his custom, and then he stood up to read. Public reading is not necessarily described as having been his custom but he does seem familiar enough with the scroll to handle it easily. Impressively, he unrolls it to locate a particular passage [about 91% of the way through, if Nazareth owned a complete copy of Isaiah in one scroll]. Then he reads it. Significantly, it does not appear that any of this was surprising to the Nazarenes, based on what happens next.

Luke says the Nazarenes were amazed at his words, specifically, that his words had such grace. This obviously suggests that Jesus had never spoken in the Nazareth Synagogue before now. [I mean, that he'd never been the featured speaker.] Again, they'd heard he'd been speaking in Synagogues, but apparently they'd not had the experience.

However, whereas those other engagements are characterized as instructive, this episode lacks any similar aspect, at least, as rendered. Instead of teaching the Nazarenes, Jesus seems to be merely talking. Luke draws quite a contrast between this episode and the age 12 Passover trip. Whereas the Jerusalemites were impressed with Jesus' sagacity and ability to dialogue with them, the Nazarenes react to very different, more personal aspects of Jesus' presentation.

Regardless of whether Jesus was 'teaching' the Nazarenes per se, the key point is that they were amazed with the grace (charis) of his words. This itself should be surprising, because Luke has just said Jesus grew in favor (charis) with the people of Nazareth for about thirty years. If the Nazarenes knew Jesus to be a person of graciousness, why would they be surprised to hear gracious words coming out of his mouth? That probably tells us as much about the regular speakers at the Nazarene Synagogue as it does about Jesus. [It may also tell us something about 1st century Rabbinic teaching in general, but that's beside the point at the moment.]

The oddness of that grace was probably one aspect making it difficult for the Nazarenes to accept his words. Of course, the major cause of their resistance has got to be his personal claim to stand there fulfilling Isaiah, which naturally leads to the "Joseph's kid!?" and "hometown prophet" exchange. But you, dear readers, already know I'm reviewing this topic in order to ask a simple, but fairly challenging question:

What does this tell us about Jesus life in Nazareth, during the "silent years"?

To be continued...

Series Update: The Nazareth Synagogue
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14

1 comment:

Peter Kirk said...

"This obviously suggests Jesus had never spoken in the Nazareth Synagogue before now."

Maybe. Or maybe he had spoken before but in an unremarkable way. The difference may have been that he was now filled with the Holy Spirit and speaking under a prophetic anointing which was not present before. Previously, I suppose, he was full of grace but his grace was deliberately hidden.

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