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?