Provocation to Humility

Mt. Precipice, Nazareth

Jesus said, “I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon.

“Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. (Luke 4:25-29)

Last Sunday we read that the Lord Jesus went to the synagogue in Nazareth and announced to the faithful Jews in His hometown that He is the Messiah.

We might think that this dramatic revelation would have led to immediate euphoria. We might think that, when the Messiah revealed Himself to the people who had known Him since He was a boy, everybody would have believed, and rejoiced, and smiled, and hugged, and said nice things about each other.

But this is not what happened. The people in the synagogue doubted. “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”


Now, let’s remember that these people faced a unique situation. They were the only Jews in history who actually knew the Messiah from the time He was a little boy. They were the only people who ever went to the synagogue on a Saturday morning, and one of their neighbors read a prophecy about the Messiah—and it actually was the Messiah.

If we were in their shoes, we might have doubted, too.

The Lord read their hearts, though, and saw that there was more than just disbelief. There was also anger. The people of Nazareth had heard that Jesus had worked miracles in a different city, twenty miles away. He had never worked miracles for them, His own kin and old friends.

Did the Lord try to make them feel better? Did He coddle their bruised egos? Did He assure them that He had no intention of offending anyone, and He was sorry if He had been insensitive?

No. He did not try to smooth things over. Quite the contrary. The Prince of Peace provoked his old friends and cousins deliberately. He intentionally enraged them.

Christ alluded to two passages in the books of the ancient kings of Israel. Centuries earlier, the prophets Elijah and Elisha both had ignored the troubles of the Israelites. Instead, they worked miracles for foreigners.

When He brought this up, the Lord Jesus might as well have said to his old neighbors:

“Oh, so you are upset that I worked miracles elsewhere? You think you deserve special favors from me? Forget it. Your half-pagan forefathers had no faith, so the prophets went elsewhere. You have no faith, either. I work miracles for people who believe!”

Now, we know that our Lord Jesus is gentle, meek, and humble of heart. We know that He is full of mercy and compassion. We know that He wills the salvation of every soul, and that He would gladly have suffered on the Cross for every single one of the Nazarenes, even if he or she were the only sinner on earth. Why, then, did He provoke these people like this?

The Lord was speaking to people He knew and loved, and who knew and loved Him. The people of Nazareth had slipped into the trap the devil sets in every house of worship in every city and town on earth. The people of Nazareth were religious, but they had no real faith. They were observant, but they were proud.

The precipice where the proud Nazarenes took the Lord Jesus to cast Him down headlong—I stood there myself two months ago. If you are afraid of heights, I do not recommend it. But the view is magnificent.

Mt. Tabor looms to the left. At the top, Sts. Peter, James, and John saw Christ transfigured in glory. In front of you stands Mt. Moreh, with the town of Nain at its foot, where Jesus raised a young man from the dead. Beyond Mt. Moreh looms Mt. Gilboa, where king Saul was killed by the Philistines.

Christ’s angry neighbors took Him to this perilous cliff. Jesus had wounded their pride. The Nazarenes thought they were righteous, but the Messiah told them that they were not. They thought that going to synagogue every week made them okay with God. The Messiah told them that they were not okay.

Dear brothers and sisters, I hate to tell you this. The Lord is saying the same thing to us. His words are intended to wound our pride. But let’s not get angry. Instead, let’s let Him humble us. Forget about “believe in yourself.” Believe in Christ.

2 thoughts on “Provocation to Humility

  1. Really enjoyed your writing! especially this…

    “The Lord was speaking to people He knew and loved, and who knew and loved Him. The people of Nazareth had slipped into the trap the devil sets in every house of worship in ever city and town on earth. The people of Nazareth were religious, but they had no real faith. They were observant, but they were proud.”

  2. What powerful, thought provoking readings today! Fr. White, I went to your blog early this a.m. as I was preparing for our RCIA dismissal and discussion on today’s readings. Thank you for your insight. I immediately knew what I wanted to share in the discussions…just as “Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away” we too must pass through the midst of pride and anger and into the light of God’s love. The scriptures are alive!!

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