Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Return

It hadn’t been very long at all, but so much had changed. Not in the town, it was the same as ever, another typical Galilean village; no, it was his role and purpose that had changed. When he left they had known him simply as the carpenter’s son, a nice guy if a little ‘different’, who had done the right thing supporting his mother and younger brothers until the boys were old enough to assume full responsibility. In the humdrum world of daily work, the simple world of ordinary people he had simply been taken for granted, and the oddities of their family history were largely overlooked.

But now his reputation had preceded him, and he could see the questions in his former neighbours’ eyes. They were remembering how his mother was pregnant too soon, they were remembering how his whole family had disappeared down to Egypt for a while, they were remembering little ways in which he had seemed unusual as a child. The rumours had been flying all round Galilee: the deaf who could now hear, the blind who could now see, the lame and the paralysed who were walking again. Wasn’t there something a little bit strange about that? Not quite sound, not quite ... reliable? And in the sideways glances their unspoken question shouted, “Who does he think he is?”

Now he looked around at them, gathering their attention as he stood before them. Then he looked down at the scroll and began to read, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor ...” He read through that glorious proclamation of the freedom and healing that were God’s signs of His Messiah, then he sat down and said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

He could feel their shock turning to anger, and the deep, resentful scepticism that lay behind it. Their thoughts were written clear across their hardening faces: Who did he think he was? He was a child of shame; his mother, who’d always seemed to be more pious than the rest of them, had been the very one who’d had to move her wedding forward. And what had he ever done for them? It was all very well to go round healing people in Capernaum (mere fishermen!) but what miracles had he ever done for the people of Nazareth all the time he had been with them? Didn’t they have first claim on him?

“No prophet is accepted in his hometown,” he told them. Hadn’t it always been the way? Men were contemptuous of the familiar, and resented one of their own claiming to be something more. Also, they always thought they had ownership. If they had ‘put up’ all those years (as they saw it) with someone who wasn’t quite one of them, there was an expectation that they should, at the very least, have a share in the rewards. That the prophets of God belong to God alone, go where He sends them, and give the glory to Him alone, was something they had no interest in knowing. In fact, the very idea enraged them.

His words about Elijah and Elisha only inflamed them further. How dare he! In one accord, just as a herd of wild creatures turns on one they perceive to be an outsider, they rose and drove him out of the synagogue, through the town and up towards a precipice. There was murder in their hearts, but it was not his time to die, and he slipped through their midst and departed, leaving them alone with their futile anger in a world grown mysteriously greyer.

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