Cultural Context 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time C
January 24, 2016
The Synagogue Scenario
A close examination of this event in the Nazareth
synagogue reveals that Luke has combined
traditions from a variety of sources to compose
a scenario for Jesus’ visit to his hometown.
The composition is clearly uneven, but it
well illustrates the positive and negative
reactions that Jesus stirred.
The immediate reaction to Jesus’ reading from Isaiah is positive. The hometown
crowd in the synagogue is impressed and grants Jesus accolades of honor. “All
spoke well of him and were amazed at his speech” (Lk 4:22).
Then a doubt begins to arise among them: “Is
this not Joseph’s son?” Jesus,
the carpenter’s son, is stepping beyond the bounds of his ascribed honor, that
is, the honor he has by birth. In the Mediterranean world, a son takes up the
profession of his father and receives the name of his grandfather. If Jesus’
father is an artisan, why is he preaching and teaching rather than working with
his hands as he ought?
Anticipating a challenge from the townspeople, Jesus delivers
an insulting put-down
to their as yet unvoiced objection. “Truly
I tell you, no prophet is accepted
in the prophet’s own hometown” (Lk 4:24). The insult is sharpened when Jesus
highlights Gentile strangers in verses Luke 4:25 to 27 as better able to judge the
honor of a prophet than those who live in close proximity on a daily basis.
Jesus’ insulting put-down is a challenge to the honor of his
hometown folk. They must respond forcefully and decisively
or they will have been shamed by Jesus.
They respond with rage (Lk 4:28) and drive him out of town in order to hurl him
off a cliff (Lk 4:29). Jesus, ever the master of the situation, escapes from them
He has maintained the honor that is his by birth and achieved
yet additional honor by besting his opponents in a spirited
As presented by the lectionary for today’s liturgy, this reading
from Luke and its partner from Nehemiah 8 have been stripped
of their cultural details in order
to highlight the power of the preached word. Restoring details of the cultural
context highlights the risky and frightening human dimension of preaching situations.
Both preacher and listener face serious risks. Are we up to them?
John J. Pilch
J. Pilch is a biblical scholar and
facilitator of parish renewals.Liturgical Press has published
fourteen books by Pilch exploring the
“cultural world” of the Bible.
Go to http://www.litpress.org/ to
find out more.
The complete text of the
above article can be found in:
The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle C
John J. Pilch. The Liturgical Press. 1996. pp. 25-27.
Martin Erspamer, O.S.B.
from Religious Clip Art for the
Liturgical Year (A, B, and C).
Used by permission of Liturgy Training
Publications. This art may be reproduced
only by parishes who purchase the
collection in book or CD-ROM form. For
more information go to: http://www.ltp.org/