“I am thankful that it urges me to take my gaze away from myself … and back to the one who brings God’s perfect love, justice and freedom to our world.” Our Chaplain Marion Carson reflects on Luke 4 in her latest blog.
When I was a much younger woman, I became ill with a chronic condition which caused me a great deal of physical pain and emotional distress. Many people prayed for healing and some predicted that I would be healed supernaturally.
When this did not happen I became angry. The gospels are full of healings – why didn’t God heal me? I agonised over this question for many years. Recently, I have been thinking about Luke 4:14-30, in which Jesus first speaks about his ministry. This passage, which is sometimes called the ‘Nazareth Manifesto’, has helped me to think about my questions.
Jesus has been teaching in the synagogues and has become something of a celebrity. He goes to Nazareth, where he was brought up. In the synagogue there, he reads a passage from the prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
“He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
He finishes reading and tells them, “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The people are delighted. We are told, “all spoke well of him”. But the moment doesn’t last because what he says next doesn’t please them at all. “You’re happy with me just now, he says, “but one day you’ll mock me and complain that I’ve not done what you wanted. You’ll be angry that I’ve been healing people in other towns and not here!” Things get nasty – so nasty that they try to kill him.
So what changed? Jesus is telling them that his ministry is about bringing freedom from oppression and injustice and giving us the ability to understand what God’s kingdom is all about. But he knows that they will be tempted to restrict his ministry to doing what they want him to do. It is when he warns them against this that they turn on him.
Focus on Jesus
As I look back to when I was ill, I realise that I had fallen into the trap that Jesus warns against here. I had expected him to work in a certain way and became angry when he did not do what I wanted, in the way that I wanted. Major surgery restored my physical health after years of illness. But I struggled for a long time afterwards, wondering why God had not intervened supernaturally. I became inward looking, resentful and unable to see what he was doing in my life and others’. I became distracted from his purpose for my life.
Had I focussed on him and his teaching about God’s perfect kingdom, had I trusted in his infinite mercy and wisdom rather than attempting to reduce him to my ‘personal fixer’ I might have saved myself a lot of struggle and pain.
This rather strange story in Luke’s gospel shows me how easy it is to misunderstand Jesus and to want to see him as someone who is there simply to do what pleases me. I am thankful that it urges me to take my gaze away from myself and my own concerns, and back to the one who brings God’s perfect love, justice and freedom to our world.