Below we have the latest installment of Bob Dunne’s book, 909 Days that Changed the World. We will post two chapters a week for the summer months. We suggest reading it quietly and putting yourself in the scenes. You might be amazed at how closer you can get to Jesus! Should you be interested in your own copy, the book ($14.95 plus sales tax) can be bought from his publisher Leonine Press, Barnes and Noble, or Amazon. It is also available in Nook and Kindle. You may also get an autographed copy directly from Bob by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chapter 9: Jesus Returns Home to Nazareth
Jesus lingers a few more days in Cana but then decides to return to Nazareth. The route from Cana to Nazareth is winding and undulating. As it approaches the town, the road rises over a ridge and drops into a large amphitheatre, around the sides of which clings the town of Nazareth. Beyond Nazareth to the south, the hills slope gently upward again; beyond these there is a steep drop into the beautiful Valley of Esdraelon. Nazareth, however, is a backwater kind of town. It is far off the beaten path and not a place anyone who likes action and excitement lives. The people here are provincial, yet they are his neighbors, and Jesus loves them for the thirty-odd years he has lived with them.
Things are much different now as he returns. The last time he had come home, after turning the water to wine at the wedding feast in Cana a little less than a year ago, there was some talk about him, but it had died down as Jesus had gone about his normal work. The town is abuzz now with stories offered by firsthand witnesses about what he did some five months ago at the last Paschal feast in Jerusalem and how he had both tamed the crowd and stood down the Jewish leaders. Many have heard of or seen him and his disciples taking up John the Baptist’s old spot on the Jordan River. There is the story of his cure of a lame man in Jerusalem on the Feast of Pentecost. Fresh on everyone’s mind came the news the other day of this miraculous cure in Capernaum of a Roman official’s son. Yes, the people of Nazareth are eager to hear more from their neighbor. They are anxious to judge for themselves who and what their townsman, Jesus, has become. They will do so in a few Sabbaths’ time.
On one of the Sabbath mornings after his arrival back home, Jesus and his mother are, as usual, at the temple for services. They sit together towards the back of the temple and greet their neighbors sitting around them. As it is the custom to have someone in the congregation read and expound on the scriptures, the elders, eager to hear him, ask Jesus to do so today. Jesus accepts the invitation and rises from his seat next to his mother. The whole assembly is quiet and follows him with their eyes as he walks to the front and is handed the scroll from which to read. He makes his way to the side of the temple altar from which the readings are proclaimed. The anticipation of his reading is so thick it is palpable.
Jesus unfolds the scroll from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah and finds the passage he wants to read: the beginning of the sixty-first chapter. To say he reads the chapter is not entirely accurate. With the scroll open in his hands, he looks directly at the congregation, meets many of them eye-to-eye, as he speaks more from memory than from words, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has appointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). His tone is both meek and commanding, spoken with such sincerity that all who hear him are touched deeply. They all sense he is speaking about himself. He finishes the passage, pauses a long moment as he looks at the congregation in silence, rolls up the scroll, hands it to the attendant, and sits down. There is not a pin drop to be heard in the synagogue when, after another pregnant pause, he raises his voice and loudly proclaims, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).
The people, at first, are mesmerized; they are captivated by the way he has spoken this passage from Isaiah. They have each heard this same passage read aloud numerous times before, but never has anyone read it and made them feel the passage was about the reader, as Jesus has just done. They all look at one another and nod in agreement as to the wisdom and the wonder of their fellow townsman, Jesus. Something special indeed is going on here and they all begin to speak very highly of him—but not for long.
After a few minutes of these nodding accolades, some of the elders begin to rethink their initial response. ‘Wait a minute,’ they say to themselves, ‘how can this young man insinuate that he is the one the great prophet speaks of?’ The crowd begins to question how such words could come out of Jesus’ mouth, and so they say to each other, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” (Luke 4:22). They go from being awed by his words and sincerity to doubting someone they have known for so long could be thus destined. Many, thinking about this news of the miraculous healing of a Roman official’s son just a few days ago in Capernaum, wonder to themselves why he is not doing the same kind of miraculous works here in his hometown of Nazareth. Surely there are enough gravely ill here he could help. If he is genuine, shouldn’t he take care of his own first? Jesus, however, is reading their minds and readies himself to make a response he knows will not be received kindly.
“Surely you will quote me this proverb,” he begins, “‘Physician cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things we have heard were done in Capernaum.’ But amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed I tell you…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” (Luke 4:23-27). The implication of his words is obvious to all. Not only is he unapologetic for not doing any special deeds here in Nazareth, he uses the scripture to explain why. He sets himself up as a prophet who has come to help the Gentiles as much as the Jews. Cries of blasphemy go up from parts of the congregation; complaints of insult go
up from other parts of the congregation. Within five minutes, the mood has changed, and the scene turns ugly.
Some from the congregation get up and angrily storm Jesus’ seat. They force him to get up and, amidst all the noise and shouting, drive him out of the temple. Jesus is calm, though, permitting them to proceed, and says nothing as the crowd hurries him through the town. As the crowd pushes him along, they all become louder and bolder as Jesus offers no resistance. Some in the crowd yell to the others to drive him up the hill on the south side of the town that overlooks the Valley of Esdraelon. They encourage one another as they move up the hill, thinking they will do away with this blasphemer by pushing him over the steep drop to his death in the valley below. This is an ugly crowd: no one listens to the few cautioning them to think clearly. The mob has taken on a life of its own and they are determined to see him through to his death.
Meanwhile, following behind the crowd is Mary, at first one of the voices admonishing the crowd for what they are doing, but now in tears. She can hardly believe what is happening. How can things have turned so quickly? Will her son’s life be ended here? For what purpose would his death now serve? Is this the sword that Simeon years ago had said would pierce her own soul also? As the crowd reaches the summit of the mountain and readies to push Jesus off, Mary weeps bitterly and watches from a small garden area near the top of the hill, a spot where even today there is a chapel in her honor. It is called the Chapel of Mary Weeping.
Suddenly the noise of the crowd changes; no longer are there shouts of anger, but now the voices sound puzzled and surprised. Mary notices. What can be happening? They are asking where Jesus is. They have somehow or other lost him. He has disappeared from their midst. Many in the crowd are incredulous that those in the front did not hurl him off the hill yet don’t know where he is. The realization that Jesus has somehow escaped them drains the mob of its energy in an instant. Baffled, they all walk back down the hill, each left to reflect on what has just happened. When they see each other in the street the next day, they will not dare to bring up this embarrassing event. Mary, for her part, although unsure where he is but relieved that her son appears to be safe, wanders back down the hill, gives thanks to God, and ponders what this could mean.