This week’s Gospel follows immediately upon the events described in the Gospel for last Sunday. Jesus has returned to His home town of Nazareth and has read the passage from the prophet Isaiah describing the signs that the Messiah would perform. Having finished His reading, Our Lord sits down and declares to those in the synagogue, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words, He revealed to them that He was the Messiah and invited them to believe in Him and so receive the goodness, grace and freedom of which the prophetic text spoke.
This first sermon Jesus preaches is highly important, because it shows how He Himself understood His ministry: His mission to the world consists in making God’s goodness and gracious love available to everyone, and Jesus Himself is the incarnation of this divine loving presence. Unfortunately, Jesus’ audience was not very receptive to His message. They realized that Jesus’ homily was “appealing,” that it made a lot of sense and contained great ideas. But were they to believe? After all, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” Wasn’t Jesus well known to everybody in Nazareth? What could be so special about Him that He would dare claim to be the Messiah?
So often in the Gospels, people who encounter Jesus fail to look beneath the surface. The townspeople of Nazareth were not malicious or evil people; it was simply that they saw only what they wanted to see: Jesus the humble carpenter. Throughout the Gospels, the Lord will speak of those who are blind or deaf to His saving message because they cannot accept who He is. That temptation can be our own as well; we can look upon Jesus as a great teacher, or a miracle worker, or a good and saintly man. But if we do not see Jesus as the Messiah, as God in the flesh who died and rose to set us free from sin and evil, then our Christian faith has been emptied of its heart and center.
Sadly, how many people fail to see that Jesus is the answer to all human hopes, desires and longings? How often do people, perhaps even we ourselves, accept substitutes or counterfeits for what Christ offers us? We may not openly deny the Lord, much less try, like His neighbors in Nazareth, to throw Him over a cliff; but how often in our private actions and in our dealings with others do we push Christ and His teachings aside and act as if we do not know Him?
The real question between the people of Nazareth (or of any time and place) and Himself, Jesus tells us, is a question of faith. Faith, in Jesus’ view, is not a response to a certain number of miracles; instead, faith is an unreserved, total and unconditional trust in God that leads to an acceptance of all that He has said to us. And as Jesus’ reference to pagan territories and individuals points out, God can shower His blessings and salvation upon anyone who has the right disposition and is prepared to believe. For this reason, Jesus does not need to prove His claims by performing miracles, as His neighbors demanded: “Do here in your own country the things we have heard you have done in Capernaum.” Rather, once we listen to Jesus and His doctrine with a sincere heart, we become able, through God’s grace, to commit ourselves to Him and see Him for who and what He is. In this way, we begin to share in the salvation He promises, not at some future moment but here and now: “Today, this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing!”