domenica 31 gennaio 2016

«Nemo propheta in patria»

Last Sunday we started the reading of Luke’s gospel. The liturgy proposed to us the prologue of the book and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the synagogue of Nazareth. Today’s gospel is the continuation of last Sunday’s; it starts with the same verse, with which that one ended: “Today this Scripture passage fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament. But not only that. Today’s gospel shows us that Jesus himself is a prophet—better, the Prophet par excellence—and shares the prophets’ fate.

I do not know if you have noticed something strange in today’s gospel. At the beginning, “all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth”; at the end, “they were all filled with fury.” How come? What happened? The Bible scholars say that Luke might have merged here two different visits of Jesus to his hometown, happened in different times. It is possible; that does not go against the fairness of a serious historian like Luke. He is inventing nothing; he is just ordering his material in a way that shows what really happened in Jesus’ life. Somehow, this story anticipates what Jesus would experience during his public ministry, from the initial admiration to the final rejection. 

It is interesting to follow the development of people’s feelings towards Jesus. They first remain amazed at the “gracious words” of Jesus. Then they ask: “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” They knew him; they had seen him grow up; he was one of them; so, how could he now speak so well? When we know somebody, we are not willing to accept his greatness, his superiority: if he is one of us, he is supposed to be like us. And so we start to envy him. Then to envy is added jealousy: “Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.” We first oppose the greatness of our fellows, and then we complain if they show themselves kinder to others than to us. Finally, when this aversion is uncovered, it turns into open hostility: the inhabitants of Nazareth would like to hurl Jesus down from the brow of the hill.

That is exactly the fate of all prophets. Have you heard what Jeremiah says in the first reading? “A prophet of the nations I appointed you … Stand up and tell them all that I command you. Be not crushed on their account … They will fight against you but not prevail over you.” Why? “For I am with you to deliver you.” A prophet might appear alone, isolated from the world, with everybody against him, doomed to succumb; and yet he is not alone, because God is with him. His enemies may seem to prevail, but they cannot overcome: the winner is the prophet, seemingly defeated. 

Jesus shared the fate of prophets. After the initial popularity, he was rejected by his countrymen. Therefore, the inhabitants of Nazareth symbolize the whole people of Israel. Even Jesus’ statement, later become a kind of proverb—“No prophet is accepted in his own native place”—takes on a meaning deeper than expected: it does not refer just to the rejection of his fellow villagers; somehow it predicts the refusal of Jesus from his own people. But, at the same time, it foretells his acceptance from foreigners. The two examples of the prophets Elijah and Elisha are significant: as they turned to foreigners, so the gospel, after the Jews’ refusal, will be announced to pagans.

A final remark. At the end of the gospel we read: “Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.” What does it mean? They are about to kill him, but he does not lose his composure; without batting an eyelid, he passes through them and goes his own way. It seems that nobody can stop his journey: people are restless; but he, imperturbable, continues his mission, as long as God wills. If God is for us, who can be against us?