February 3rd: Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. 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; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 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. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.
Jesus had stopped to worship in the synagogue at Nazareth. After being admired, the congregation seemed to turn on him because they understood he had reminded them that God was not limited to the Hebrews. Jesus reminded them that two prophets, Elijah and Elisha had performed prophetic acts among the gentiles at critical times in the history if Israel. What was it about these stories that made the crowd want to kill Jesus?
In the midst of a great famine brought on by the inequity of the Hebrews and the apostasy of Ahab. Elijah had sought refuge with a gentile widow in Zarephath. Even though she had nearly run out of food herself, the widow fed Elijah, and sustained him. She trusted his assurance that the Lord would provide more than enough food. Today we would describe her as a saint.
Naaman was a Syrian general, who suffered from a serious skin disease. When a Hebrew slave tells him her God can cure him, Naaman travels to Israel, where the king fears this request is a pretext for an invasion. However, Elisha hears about all this, and tells Naaman he should wash seven times in the Jordan River. Though he has to be convinced to do this, once done Naaman is cured. He converts to Judaism as a result.
The people of Nazareth thought that they, like other Hebrews were completely different from other people in the eyes of God. They deserved God’s love. They had earned it. But Jesus tells them God’s love is freely given, not earned. Our response to that love is what’s important. With thankfulness and praise, or with resentment and fear? There is no doubt, which one Jesus hopes for.