Luke’s Gospel, like Mark, emphasizes “outsiders.” In Mark, everyone who ought to get Jesus doesn’t (the disciples, Pharisees, scribes, etc.) and everyone who shouldn’t get Jesus does (the demon-possessed, leprous, unclean, the Syrophoenician woman, etc.).
In Luke, Jesus is the Savior of all humanity—Jew and gentile—and this doesn’t sit well with God’s people. We see the offensive inclusivity of Jesus’ mission in at least two passages. I’ll note one today and perhaps look at another one or two later this week.
At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus is in Nazareth, his hometown. He reads from Isaiah 61 to claim that he is God’s anointed and that the ministry to which Isaiah looked forward is being fulfilled.
Those who heard it seem to respond positively:
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked (Luke 4:20-22).
But Jesus doesn’t leave it there. He tells them that his ministry extends to the gentiles:
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’” “Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way (4:23-30).
Just because Jesus is from Nazareth doesn’t mean that they’re going to hit some kind of messianic jackpot. Like his prophetic predecessors, Jesus’ ministry extends to non-Jews, embodying God’s mission to reclaim the nations along with restoring Israel.
This was always part of God’s plan. His original call of Israel was for the purpose of redeeming the nations of the earth for his glory.
But God’s people had lost their way, growing insular, nurturing hatreds and suspicions of outsiders, longing for God to come and save Israel but to destroy the nations. Jesus’ own generation was so outraged at the thought of salvation extending to the gentiles that they tried to kill him.
The magnanimous love of God and inclusive reach of Jesus’ ministry was an offense.
Is this still a problem for God’s people?
7 thoughts on “The Offensive Inclusivity of Jesus’ Family”
“But God’s people had lost their way, growing insular, nurturing hatreds and suspicions of outsiders, longing for God to come and save Israel but to destroy the nations.”
This ethos is so deeply embedded within most Christian church cultures. The apprehension of status over-and-against those unlike us is hard to wean people off of. For many the very core of being a Christian is defined by what we are opposed to. To move that away from the center incites major crisis and visceral anger as a response.
It saddens me because on many levels I feel the incarnate God unveiled in the Gospel of Mark isn’t really attractive to them but institutional Christianity is.
I hear you, Dan. That’s a sad hijacking of what being Christian is all about. God became the other to redeem the other. We can say that the Spirit is sent to reproduce that very dynamic among the church–embracing the other for the other’s redemption. It seems there’s something seriously wrong with communities that do all they can to avoid embodying that dynamic.
Not only that they are foreigners (Gentiles), they are leper and widow. Socially, economically (for the widow), religiously and racially they are “outsiders”. And what’s interesting is that Jesus uses the Scripture here. It is their sacred text itself that points to Jesus’ messiahship and it is the same text that makes his ministry and mission so offensive to his audience. The Scripture does not point to an ethnocentric and exclusive religion, but a God who longs to embrace people of all all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds.
Some years ago a pastor told me that he was running a study series on the growth of a particular non-Christian religion. I was afraid that such a study would generate hatred rather than love, due to the rather negative image it paints about this particular religion. Some weeks later a number of asylum seekers and refugees of this religion came to faith in Jesus because of a bunch of Christians’ hospitality and love for them. (There was no traditional evangelistic activity, just love and hospitality.) They were subsequently baptised. I reported this great news to the pastor, thinking that he would be happy to hear the news. Well, he wasn’t particularly impressed with the news. Not sure why. Maybe he’s just one of those who don’t show a lot of emotions. Maybe he’s very glad but didn’t show it. Or maybe the study series was not so much about including outsiders but ensuring that outsiders are truly outsiders. I hope not.
Great thoughts, S. It would be tragic indeed for any Jesus-follower to fail to celebrate new life. I must say, though, that this is a far commoner reaction than we might imagine. For those here in the U.S., there are certain people “we” regard as “outsiders” and we want them to remain as such. For example, Arabs (because of all that has gone on) and Hispanics (because of fights over U.S. immigration policy) remain as those many American Christians want to keep at bay. We forget that many of them are siblings in Jesus and that our postures toward them are a grief to the heart of the one who died to bring us together and to himself.
Although I won’t say anything about this passage (I love this passage & have taught over it a few times & think you’re right on the mark), I did want to say how much I enjoy reading your blog. You post about scripture & what it meant (exegesis) & make it relevant to the modern day. Your posts are full of fresh insight & are not re-hashed cliches. Thank you
I just wanted to encourage you to keep blogging. I read everything you right. For some reason I wanted to say that because I know it’s probably tough to keep it going sometimes due to all of life’s other demands, lack of comments, etc. Please don’t stop! You’re feeding me & others like me, & for some of us it’s about all we get for the day. Just because I don’t comment often does not mean I don’t read. Keep blogging it up!
Thanks for your encouraging words, Luke! I’m enjoying it so far…
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