This is the third of three notes on the Lukan narrative of Jesus in the Synagogue at Nazareth (Lk 4:16-30)—yesterday’s note dealt with the significance of the Scripture quotation in vv. 18-19 (Isa 61:1-2), today’s note will explore the people’s reaction to Jesus in vv. 22ff.
Following the reading (as represented in the citation by Luke), Jesus hands the scroll to the attendant and sits down (v. 20), with the eyes of all in the synagogue gazing intently [lit. straining a)teni/zonte$] at him. Jesus’ message to them is (or, begins):
“(To)day this Writing has been fulfilled in your ears [i.e. your hearing]” (v. 21b)
The reaction of the people is noteworthy—
“And all witnessed to/about him and wondered upon the words of favor [i.e. favorable words] passing out of his mouth, and they said/related: ‘Is not this the son of Yoseph?'” (v. 22)
an apparently positive response which would seem to be contrary to the negative reaction in the parallel passage (Mark 6:3/Matt 14:57). There are several ways to understand the Lukan narrative here:
- That the dative personal object au)tw=| is a dative of disadvantage, reflecting a more negative, hostile reaction: “And all witnessed against him and wondered about the words…” This brings the passage more in line with the Markan/Matthean parallel.
- It is a reaction to Jesus’ own eloquence and understanding (cf. Lk 2:47, 52), rather than the significance of the message.
- They react generally to the Scripture passage, without really appreciating the significance of Jesus’ interpretation in v. 21.
- They recognize and approve the Messianic significance of the passage (and Jesus’ statement), but do not see it being fulfilled in him.
- They understand the Messianic significance and see Jesus as fulfilling it, but in a superficial or inappropriate manner.
Arguments can be made for each of these interpretations; I tend to find the second most likely, but much depends on how one relates the people’s reaction to what follows in verses 23ff. Reading the passage in the modern manner, applying psychological realism to the scene, Jesus’ response in vv. 23-24 is somewhat hard to explain. If the crowd’s reaction was positive (and if they understood the Messianic significance of Jesus’ statement), why the harsh and provocative response? The parallel in Mark 6:2-3 suggests that, in the historical tradition inherited by the Gospel writer, the crowd focused entirely on Jesus—how a man from their hometown could possess such eloquence and understanding, that he could have done such miracles as had been reported, etc—with the tradition emphasizing their lack of faith/trust in him (Mk 6:6 par). Luke has given a somewhat different tenor to the narrative, by keeping the crowd’s initial reaction general: the phrase e)martu/roun au)tw=| (“witnessed to/about him”) need not be understood in either a positive or negative sense especially, and e)qau/mazon (“wondered”) simply indicates a reaction to something extraordinary or auspicious. The expression “favorable words” (lit. “words of favor [xa/ri$]”) is, I believe, an intentional echo of the “favor” [xa/ri$] mentioned in 2:40, 52.
In order to analyze these verses further, it is perhaps useful to look at the structure of the passage as a whole, which I outline as follows:
- Narrative introduction (Jesus comes to Nazareth) with the Synagogue setting (v. 16)
- Part 1 (vv. 17-22):
- Scripture passage [Isa 61:1-2] (v. 18-19) and Saying of Jesus (v. 21)
- The (positive/neutral) reaction by the people (v. 22)
- Part 2 (vv. 23-29):
- Two-fold Saying of Jesus (vv. 23-24) and two-fold illustration from Scripture [1 Kings 17:1-18:1; 2 Kings 5:1-14] (vv. 25-27)
- The (negative, hostile) reaction by the people (v. 28-29)
- Narrative conclusion (Jesus leaves Nazareth) (v. 30)
Here the parallel reaction by the people in v. 22, 28-29 is central to an understanding of the passage—it effectively illustrates the prophecy of Simeon (2:34-35) from the Infancy narrative:
“This (child) lies out [i.e. is laid/set] unto (the) falling (down) and standing up of many in Yisrael, and unto a sign counted against [i.e. opposed/contradicted]… so that (the) counting-through [i.e. thoughts pl.] out of many hearts might be uncovered.” [For the moment I have left out the parenthetical address to Mary in v. 35a]
There is an ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ destiny and purpose for the child, indicated by a pair of clauses with the preposition ei)$ (“into/unto” [we would say “for”]), and a subordinating conjunction o%pw$ (“so as, so that”) expressing final purpose:
- This (child) lies out
- unto [ei)$] (the) falling (down) and standing up of many in Israel, and
- unto [ei)$] a sign counted/reckoned against
- so that [o%pw$] the counting-through/reckoning [pl.] might be uncovered out of many hearts
There are two aspects of the ‘inner’ purpose:
- The falling and rising of many in Israel—this can be understood as representing (a) two different groups of people, or (b) a sequence (first falling, then rising) of one group (or people in general). Usually it is interpreted in the former sense: Jesus will cause some to fall, others to rise. The implication is that these are people who will encounter Jesus’ person and message directly, and so are affected by it.
- A sign which is opposed [counted/reckoned against]—here the reaction is entirely negative or hostile: it is not so much the man Jesus himself that is opposed, but what he represents (the sign [shmei=on]). This negative reaction would be more general and (perhaps) widespread, even for those who had only heard of Jesus indirectly.
As for the ‘outer’ (final) purpose, it is that the thoughts [the “accounts/reckoning”] might be uncovered [i.e. the cover removed] from many hearts. The person and message of Jesus will reveal the innermost (true) thoughts of those who encounter him. This does, in fact, appear to be what occurs in the narrative under discussion—the hostility toward Jesus ultimately comes to the forefront in verses 23ff, to the point where the townspeople (some of them, at least) seek to throw him down the cliffside (v. 29).
One might compare the narrative with two other proximate passages in the Gospel: (1) the episode of the boy Jesus in Jerusalem (2:41-51), and (2) the call of the first disciples (5:1-11).
There are several similar or related details between our passage and Lk 2:41-51:
- Jesus separates from his parents and relatives (v. 43)
- He is in a sacred place of worship (the Temple) (v. 45-46)
- He is participating in Jewish religious matters (v. 46)
(as a pupil sitting among teachers of the Law)
- The people are amazed [e)ci/sthmi] by his understanding and responses (v. 47)
- His parents (father Joseph) are juxtaposed with his (true) Father (v. 48-49)
- His parents did not understand what he was saying (v. 50)
- Jesus returns to the place where he was brought up (v. 16)
- He is in a place of worship (the Synagogue)
- He is participating in Jewish religious matters (v. 17-21)
(the Synagogue service and reading of Scripture)
- The people are amazed [qauma/zw] by his “words of favor” (v. 22)
- He is identified by the people with his human father Joseph (v. 22b)
- The people (incl. his relatives?) did not truly understand what he was saying (vv. 23-28)
In the Lukan narrative of the calling of the first Disciples (5:1-11), we see a different sort of reaction to Jesus: at first there is doubt in response to his word (v. 5), but they act in trust; and, following the miracle (vv. 6-7), they are amazed [perie/xw] (v. 9), but some of them (e.g., Simon Peter) by it recognize who Jesus is and what he represents (at a fundamental level) (v. 8), and leave everything to follow him (v. 11).
I will be discussing Lk 5:1-11 in more detail in the next note.