They were filled with fury, not anger, but FURY. What in the world did Jesus do to evoke that kind of reaction?
They had their fifteen minutes of fame stolen. They had claim to Him more than anyone else. He grew up in their town. Think about it. Someone becomes famous and suddenly everyone has a story about how they “knew him when.” Everyone wants a piece of the fame. Everyone wants to be connected to it – to be able to name drop. “Hey, you know that guy, Jesus, who preached in the synagogue last week? Yeah, we go way back. When I was five our moms got water from the same well every Tuesday morning.”
Did they expect to be treated to some special display of greatness because of who they were? Seems like it. Jesus even predicts that by calling them on it: “Surely you will…say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” Then He proceeds to pull the red carpet right out from under their feet. ISRAEL had widows, but Elijah was sent to a woman in Zarephath (aka NOT ISRAEL). ISRAEL had lepers, but Elisha cleansed a Syrian (aka NOT AN ISRAELITE). Jesus is doing what He always does – showing no partiality, no particular favor associated with birthplace, nationality, social status, or political influence. And what’s even more maddening to the Nazarenes (I’m guessing) is that THEY were not only Israelites, but they were HIS Israelites – His people, His kinsmen, His neighborhood buddies. The opportunity for elitism here is undeniable. Then Jesus essentially says, “God sent Elijah and Elisha to outsiders; I am going to outsiders, too.” Subtext? “I love you, but I also love everyone else, and what I have for you is also for them.” Ouch. That’ll sting the ego.
So what does this mean for us? How about a little self-examination? In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, this might be an appropriate time to consider areas of our life where we either knowingly or unknowingly set ourself in a position of prominence and, consequently, lacked mercy in dealing with others. Let’s be honest. Like the Israelites in this story, we as Catholics can tend to flirt with elitism. It’s a challenge not to, when we can trace our origins all the way back to Peter and the early Church. It’s a challenge not to be elitist when we know we are on the right side of morality on topics such as abortion, the death penalty and treatment of the poor. We must be wary of a tone of voice that betrays condescension. We must hear Jesus saying, “I love you, but I also love everyone else, and what I have for you is also for them.” We must show mercy, and in doing so, see to it that we don’t end up like the Nazarenes, running Jesus out of town in a rage. We are loved, but so is everyone else. Salvation is ours, but it is also offered to everyone else. There is no inside group – no special club.