Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Rough and Tumble Reception

A Rough and Tumble Reception

Below is a rough translation and some preliminary notes for Luke 4:22-30, the gospel reading for Sunday, January 31. This is a very confrontational scene, which ends with the people of Nazareth pushing Jesus to a cliff and trying to kill him. Last week’s reading (vv.14-21) was quite different. Last week we learned that Jesus was ‘nurtured’ in Nazareth and that one of the customs that was given to him was to go to the synagogue on the day of the Sabbath. Last week, the synagogue in Nazareth was the place which had the scrolls of the prophet Isaiah that Jesus read.
But that was last week. This week, things go south in a hurry.
I suspect the key issue here is whether the people of Nazareth had a sense of exceptionalism, a feeling that they were entitled to a greater share of the good news that this anointed one – one of their own – was given to share. I relate this issue to a larger issue that any people of God face when they view themselves as elected - a valid way of viewing oneself, in my opinion, but a view that has to face the issue that Jesus raises here. Does being the elect mean that the good news is to us, or that the good news is to others through us? I feel that something like that question is latent throughout the Hebrew Bible and is at play here.

22 Καὶ πάντες ἐμαρτύρουν αὐτῷ καὶ ἐθαύμαζον  τοῖς λόγοις τῆς χάριτος
τοῖς ἐκπορευομένοις ἐκ τοῦ στόματος αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἔλεγον, Οὐχὶ υἱός ἐστιν 
Ἰωσὴφ οὗτος; 
And all were bearing witness to him and were marveling over the words of grace which were coming out of his mouth, and were saying, “Is this not a son of Joseph?” 
ἐμαρτύρουν: IAI, 3p, μαρτυρέω, 1) to be a witness, to bear witness, 
ἐθαύμαζον: IAI 3p, θαυμάζω, 1) to wonder, wonder at, marvel  2) to be wondered at, to be had in admiration
ἐκπορευομένοις: PMPart dpm, ἐκπορεύομαι, 1) to go forth, go out, depart 
ἔλεγον: IAI 3p, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain 
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. This is an interesting use of the word μαρτυρέω, ‘to witness.’ One expects a direct object, in the accusative case, to say that they ‘witnessed him.’ But, it the verb has a direct object in the dative case, which typically would be, ‘they witnessed to him.’ But, it does not seem to be the case that the crowds are bearing witness ‘to’ Jesus, but are looking at one another and speaking ‘about’ him, which typically would have the preposition πἐρὶ or ‘of’ him in the genitive case.
2. The question regarding Jesus’ family could be fairly benign and, coming on the heels of people speaking well (if that is how one chooses to interpret ‘μαρτυρέω’) and ‘marveling,’ one could expect that it is well-intended. However, the word ‘marvel’ (θαυμάζω) in Luke has a long use and not every time is positive. It could be a challenge.
3. Whatever the intention of this verse, it seems to be a turning point, or to evoke a turning point, because Jesus immediately responds with challenging words that posit him against the crowd. It seems to me that the interpretive issue over this question is whether it is a challenge that provokes Jesus’ response beginning in v.23, or, whether Jesus provokes the antipathy with his words in v.23.
4. One response may be that calling Jesus “Joseph’s son” could be – at least to the reader of Luke’s gospel, whether or not this could be true of the folks gathered in Nazareth that day – a way of challenging and denying the whole meaning of the birth narrative, which establishes Jesus as much more than Joseph’s son.
5. I suspect that this question is provocative, but not because it denies Jesus’ divine conception. Rather, I think it is an attempt to claim Jesus as their own, to domesticate him into a local house priest, filled with the expectation that whatever he has been doing abroad he will surely do and more here in his home town. Of course, I wouldn’t think that except for what happens in the following verses.
6. Here are the uses of θαυμάζω in Luke. Whoever put this list together initially chose ‘marvel’ at times and ‘wondered’ at times.
Luk 1:21
...for Zacharias, and marveled that he tarried...
Luk 1:63
...is John. And they marveled all.
Luk 2:18
...that heard it wondered at those things...
Luk 2:33
...and his mother marveled at those things...
Luk 4:22
...him witness, and wondered at the gracious...
Luk 7:9
...heard these things, he marveled at him, and...
Luk 8:25
...they being afraid wondered, saying one to...
Luk 9:43
...of God. But while they wondered every one at...
Luk 11:14
...and the people wondered.
Luk 11:38
...Pharisee saw it, he marveled that he had...
Luk 20:26
...the people: and they marveled at his answer...
Luk 24:12
...themselves, and departed, wondering in himself at...
Luk 24:41
...for joy, and wondered, he said unto...
7. Okay, here is where my head is at the moment on this verse: Perhaps it should be translated, “And all were witness about him (neutral: could be good or bad) and were astounded (maybe not so good) over the words of favor (that’s how this word is translated in other places in Luke) which were coming out of his mouth, and said, “Is this not a son of Joseph?”
We’ve been taught to assume – per Borg, Crossan, Horsley, Carter, etc. – that everyone in greater Israel – with the exception of a few wealthy elites – were the poor, the oppressed, etc. But what if the people of Nazareth heard these words as “favor” to “not us”? Is the selection of Isaiah and the declaration of Isaiah’s words being fulfilled the offense itself that drives this story downward?

Verse 22 could be translated in a way to show the crowd’s unfavorable reaction, rather than their admiration.

23 καὶ εἶπεν πρὸς αὐτούς, Πάντως ἐρεῖτέ μοι τὴν παραβολὴν ταύτην: Ἰατρέ, 
θεράπευσον σεαυτόν: ὅσα ἠκούσαμεν γενόμενα εἰς τὴν Καφαρναοὺμ 
ποίησον καὶ ὧδε ἐν τῇ πατρίδι σου.
And he said to them, “Doubtless you will say to me this parable: Physician, heal yourself! That which what we heard you have done in Capernaum also do in your fatherland.” 
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain 
ἐρεῖτέ: FAI 2pl, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain 
θεράπευσον: AAImpv 2s, θεραπεύω, 1) to serve, do service  2) to heal, cure, restore to health
ἠκούσαμεν: AAI 1p, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf  2) to hear
γενόμενα: AMPart apm, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being 
ποίησον: AAImpv 2s, ποιέω, 1) to make  1a) with the names of things made, to produce, construct,  form, fashion, etc
1. Some translations (ESV, NIV, NRSV) use the word “quote” for the future form of λέγω. I suppose it is a judgment call, based on the idea that Jesus is citing a familiar phrase. But, see note #3 for this verse.
2. Jesus calls this phrase a parable (παραβολὴν), thus confirming my ongoing suspicion that we have very little idea what the word ‘parable’ actually meant to 1st century Galilean folk. This phrase would not fit any modern definition of a ‘parable.’ That is why most translations use the word “proverb” instead.
3.  If Jesus is ‘quoting’ a ‘parable,’ where does the quote end? One would think that the familiar phrase would be the brief, “Physician, heal thyself!” (I actually had a college roommate say that to a dying aloe plant once. Think about it.) However, in the next sentence, Jesus continues to put words in the crowd’s mouth. So, perhaps the familiar ‘parable’ contains both sentences, not just the brief version.
4. This is quite an assumption on Jesus’ part. Is this what they are truly thinking? We can’t know because all we have is the story. In the story, however, their approval very quickly turns ugly. So, in the story, this is the motive that is ascribed to them. That is why I believe that the reference to Jesus as Joseph’s son was a provocative attempt to domesticate Jesus and make him Nazareth’s own prophet and to set Nazareth apart as special recipient of his work. 
5. I translate πατρίδι as ‘fatherland’ because of the obvious reference to father in it. My only hesitation is that Nazareth is a town, so the word ‘fatherland’ may be too big to fit. Many translations go with ‘city.’  
6. If this is truly what the Nazareans are thinking, imagine how it contrasts with the words of Isaiah. Jesus is sent to those who have been marginalized, not to those who live within assumed privileged boundaries.

24 εἶπεν δέ, Ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐδεὶς προφήτης δεκτός ἐστιν ἐν τῇ πατρίδι 
αὐτοῦ. 
But/and he said, “Amen I say to you that a no prophet is acceptable in his fatherland.”
εἶπεν: AAI 3s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain 
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain 
ἐστιν: PAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
1. Perhaps this is the “battle of the sayings.” In this corner we have, “Physician, heal yourself! Do in your fatherland what we hear you are doing elsewhere.” In that corner, is “No prophet is accepted in his fatherland.” One seems to imply that the physician is at fault for a lack of honoring the homeland. The other seems to imply that the homeland is at fault for failing to honor the prophet’s necessary message.  We will see which of these sayings proves true. One is set off with “you will say to me” and the other “Amen I say to you.”
2. Perhaps there is a play on words here – the word ‘acceptable’ is the same word to describe the ‘acceptable year of the Lord’ in the Isaiah text that Jesus has just read.
3. The word “Amen” is a transliteration of Ἀμὴν. It is sometimes translated ‘truly’, but on this occasion I am keeping it transliteral because of the way Jesus uses the phrase “in truth” in the next verse.

25ἐπ' ἀληθείας δὲ λέγω ὑμῖν, πολλαὶ χῆραι ἦσαν ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις Ἠλίου ἐν 
τῷ Ἰσραήλ, ὅτε ἐκλείσθη  οὐρανὸς ἐπὶ ἔτη τρία καὶ μῆνας ἕξ, ὡς ἐγένετο 
λιμὸς μέγας ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν, 
But in truth I say to you, “Many widows were in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, as great famine took place over all the land,
λέγω: PAI 1s, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak  1a) affirm over, maintain 
ἦσαν: IAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἐκλείσθη: API 3s, κλείω, 1) to shut, shut up  2) metaph.  2a) to cause the heavens to withhold rain
ἐγένετο: AMI 3s, γίνομαι, 1) to become, i.e. to come into existence, begin to be, receive being

26 καὶ πρὸς οὐδεμίαν αὐτῶν ἐπέμφθη Ἠλίας εἰ μὴ εἰς Σάρεπτα τῆς Σιδωνίας 
πρὸς γυναῖκα χήραν. 
And to none of them was Elijah sent except to Zarephath of Sidon to a widow woman. 
ἐπέμφθη: API, 3s, πέμπω, 1) to send  1a) to bid a thing to be carried to one 
1. The story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath is in I Kings 17. Zarephath of Sidon was a Phoenician city. Some legends say that the Phoenicians were descended from the Canaanites.

27 καὶ πολλοὶ λεπροὶ ἦσαν ἐν τῷ Ἰσραὴλ ἐπὶ Ἐλισαίου τοῦ προφήτου, καὶ 
οὐδεὶς αὐτῶν ἐκαθαρίσθη εἰ μὴ Ναιμὰν  Σύρος.
And many lepers were in Israel with Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syria.
ἦσαν: IAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἐκαθαρίσθη: API 3s, καθαρίζω, 1) to make clean, cleanse  
1. The story of Elisha and Naaman is in II Kings 5. It begins this way: “Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife.”
2. Certainly the folks of Nazareth were quite familiar with both of these stories that Jesus cites. The hermeneutical question is, do these stories indicate a rule, or are they exceptions to the rule?
3. I suspect that one of the ongoing arguments/conversations within the Jewish community was over what it means to be God’s elect. Does being elected, chosen by God, mean that the people of Israel will be blessed among all other nations? Or, does it means that the people of Israel will be the means – however this works out for them – by which all nations will be blessed? Both options are possible when one reads the initial covenant that God makes with Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3.
4. Not to be missed is that Naaman was the enemy. And while the narrator says that God gave the victory to Naaman, the victory was against Israel.

28 καὶ ἐπλήσθησαν πάντες θυμοῦ ἐν τῇ συναγωγῇ ἀκούοντες ταῦτα,
And all in the synagogue were filled with wrath, hearing these things
ἐπλήσθησαν: API 3p πίμπλημι, to fill up
ἀκούοντες: PAPart npm, ἀκούω, 1) to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf
1. greattreasures.org has this to say about the difference between the words ὀργή and θυμός, both of which can be translated ‘wrath’:  ὀργή is the abiding, settled habit of mind, the settled purpose of wrath. θυμός is the turbulent commotion of the mind, rage.  ὀργή is, as it were, the heat of the fire; θυμός the bursting forth of the flame. ὀργή is less sudden in its rise, but more lasting.  [I guess that makes this group a ‘flash mob’.]

29 καὶ ἀναστάντες ἐξέβαλον αὐτὸν ἔξω τῆς πόλεως, καὶ ἤγαγον αὐτὸν ἕως 
ὀφρύος τοῦ ὄρους ἐφ' οὗ  πόλις ᾠκοδόμητο αὐτῶν, ὥστε κατακρημνίσαι 
αὐτόν:
And having risen, they threw him out of the city, and brought him to a cliff of the mountain on which their city was built, in order to cast him down;
ἀναστάντες: AAPart npm, ἀνίστημι, 1) to cause to rise up, raise up
ἐξέβαλον: AAI 3p, ἐκβάλλω, 1) to cast out, drive out, to send out
ἤγαγον : AAI, 3pl, ἄγω,  1) to lead, take with one  1a) to lead by laying hold of, and this way to bring to the  point of destination: of an animal 
ᾠκοδόμητο : PluperfectPI 3s, οἰκοδομέω, 1) to build a house, erect a building
κατακρημνίσαι : AAInf, cast down headlong, to cast down from a precipice.
1. They cast him out of the city – that is, Nazareth, where he had been nurtured (v.16).
2. The intensity of this scene is remarkable. There is an extreme change from v.22, where all spoke well of him and marveled and asked if he were not Joseph’s son. And, this verse covers very tersely what must have been a drawn out event of angry voices dragging and screaming, of perhaps a friend, a mother, a disciple or two, trying to resist, of real and formidable mob violence.

30 αὐτὸς δὲ διελθὼν διὰ μέσου αὐτῶν ἐπορεύετο. 
But he, having passed through the midst of them, went on.
διελθὼν: AAPart nsm, διέρχομαι, 1) to go through, pass through
ἐπορεύετο: IMI 3s, πορεύομαι, 1) to lead over, carry over, transfer 1a) to pursue the journey on which one has entered, to continue on one's journey
1. This may be the most anticlimactic of anticlimaxes ever.

The proverb, “Phyisican, heal yourself,” seems to be something like, “take the mote out of your eye before attending to the splinter in others’ eyes,” or “you saved others; why can’t you save yourself?” However, it takes on a different shade of meaning when augmented with, “That which what we heard you have done in Capernaum also do in your fatherland.” That makes it more of a “charity begins at home” sort of spatial reference, rather than a personal one. That is why I think the comment in v.22, to Jesus’ place in the family, is what provokes this response by Jesus. They are trying to put Jesus in his place, both with regard to his family and his hometown.


It is an interesting dilemma: Nazareth is where Jesus was raised and where he learned the custom of attending synagogue on the Sabbath, reading the Scriptures and hearing them proclaimed as meaningful today. Yet, when he does that, by selecting the Isaiah text of God sending one out to the margins of society, by appealing to the traditions of Elijah and Elisha who reached outside of their people to aid/heal ‘the other,’ the home town community feels left out – even murderously angry.  

10 comments:

  1. I just edited the notes on v.22 to say that the verb 'witnessed' has an INdirect object and that it is the 'crowds' not the 'crows' that are witnessing to/at/regarding Jesus. I wish the crows had chimed in, but, alas, Luke says nothing about them in this text.

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    1. What a shame :-) Many thanks for your most thoughtful comments on this amazing story. I think this is a real case of 'God in the gaps'. What happened? Nothing happened. Jesus didn't respond to violence with violence and thus defused a very dangerous situation. Still incredible though.

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    2. What a shame :-) Many thanks for your most thoughtful comments on this amazing story. I think this is a real case of 'God in the gaps'. What happened? Nothing happened. Jesus didn't respond to violence with violence and thus defused a very dangerous situation. Still incredible though.

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  2. I just can't quite fix in my mind why v.22 reads 'witnessing to' him. And I am a little concerned about that word 'marveled,' What if it were 'stunned'? What if they were they were stunned at the "gracious words" that he was speaking. Jesus is, after all, arguing that God's care and healing reach beyond Israel to Phoenicians and Syrians. After all, Elijah provided for none of the widows of Israel and Elisha healed none of the lepers in Israel. None. Those "gracious words" might be "grace" in the sense of "outside of proper boundaries." Their "marvel" might be more offense than wow.
    I don't know. Here it is Saturday night and I still don't feel that I have a handle on the crux of the story.

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  3. What I'm wondering is why Luke told this story in the first place.... what did it mean to his audience.... ??

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    1. I think it's interesting that Mark's translation includes 'led out of the city' and the verb ἤγαγον : AAI, 3pl, ἄγω, 1) to lead, take with one 1a) to lead by laying hold of, and this way to bring to the point of destination: of an animal [for sacrifice?] ... to me, both these things hint at the crucifixion.

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    2. I think it's interesting that Mark's translation includes 'led out of the city' and the verb ἤγαγον : AAI, 3pl, ἄγω, 1) to lead, take with one 1a) to lead by laying hold of, and this way to bring to the point of destination: of an animal [for sacrifice?] ... to me, both these things hint at the crucifixion.

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    3. I've thought about this story as a foreshadowing of crucifixion as well, but even more as a reenactment of the scapegoating process. I wonder if the act was a communal ritual, rather than an attempt to really throw him off the cliff.

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  4. If Luke is writing Theophilus, it might be implied that Luke is writing to a non-Jewish convert to tell the story of Jesus and salvation not just for the Jews. This event in Jesus life would give an indication of God's salvation was not just for His people but from out of the midst of His people.

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    1. That's where my mind went as well, when Tom posed his question.

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