When Jesus went on his way, where did he go? (Luke 4:31–37)

Picking up from yesterday (Luke 4:14–30): the second half of this diptych occupies Luke 4:31–37. The whole passage is marked as a unit by the inclusio between verse 14 (and phēmē went out across the whole surrounding region concerning him) and verse 37 (same thing, but with ēchos instead of phēmē for the excited buzz about Jesus).

31 And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, 32 and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. 33 And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34 “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.” 35 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. 36 And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” 37 And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region.

Luke 4:31–37, ESV

Yesterday’s scene was in Nazareth, where members of the congregation challenged him to do there the things that they had heard already happened in Capernaum, the nearest big (relative to Nazareth) city. Today’s scene is—Capernaum. This is where Jesus went after “passing through their midst he went on his way” from Nazareth when they tried to lynch him.

Nazareth, Luke had told us at the beginning of yesterday’s story, was hou ēn tethrammenos (where he was raised—i.e., cared for, nurtured). I think Luke could almost have added here the words that he uses in introducing the genealogy in chapter 3, hōs enomizeto = “or so they thought.” What they thought was: the fact that he was raised there meant that he was one of them, he was their own, they owned him, so he should wear their Nazareth-first T-shirt. This is why Jesus said to them that prophets are never acceptable (dektos) in their own country (patris).

David French has an insightful post on the difference between a “prophet” and a “lawyer” in the context of the current religious-political troubles in the US. I put these words in quotation marks because he is using them as types or symbols rather than in their everyday literal acceptations. A “prophet” is someone who challenges you, tells you how you are wrong and how you must turn, how you must change. Your “lawyer” is someone who reassures you that you are right and makes the case to others, using any available arguments (including sophistries or tricks), that you are right. Our lawyer is our own—if not one of us, at least willing to speak and act as if one of us, or as if owned by us. The prophet is decidedly unwilling to pander to us in this way, is definitely not there to assure us that we are right. The congregation at Nazareth wanted to tell Jesus that he was their homeboy, and he was not going to play that game. The prophet is never anyone’s homey. This is why people who are immature or defective in their moral and spiritual formation never want a prophet. We want a lawyer.

This is a tricky thing when applied to us and Jesus. After all, in John’s Gospel, does Jesus not at a certain point (it’s in chapter 15) tell his disciples that he will no longer call them servants but friends? But it is important to note that this statement occurs in the vine-and-branches discourse. He says “you are my friends if you keep my commandments.” Friendship with Jesus is predicated on a prior organic union so close that it is like the union of particular branches with the vine or vineyard, a union so close that the fruit (words and actions) borne by those branches is rightly seen as the fruit of the vine and the vineyard as a whole.

We don’t get to be Jesus’s friend because he is our homey, or because he is from our patris—our town, our country, our ethnicity, our social group, or (even and especially) our religious group. If we think he was raised (tethrammenos, v. 16) on our values, we are most likely ourselves broken down (tethrausmenous, v. 18) and blind (typhlois, v. 18), needing to have our sight restored. We need to have our sight restored so that we can see Jesus not as our homey but as a foreigner, as a stranger. The Word of God is always at the outset exotic: coming from outside of ourselves (exo-), outside of our own comfortable home territory. It is never at the outset esoteric: coming from within (eso-) the comfortable mental and social territory that we own, that we control, that we can always interpret to our own advantage. If we try to treat Jesus as our homey, he will perform no works of salvation among us, and we will be enraged, and he will pass through our midst and go on his way.

Did Jesus speak with a different voice in Capernaum than he spoke with in Nazareth? Did he have new mouth installed en route from his home town to the neighboring cosmopolis? I don’t think so. I think he spoke with the same voice, from the same heart and mind, in Capernaum as in Nazareth. But in Capernaum they were amazed at his teaching. His utterance, his argument (logos), sounded authoritative (en exousia) to them (v. 32). Why had his speech not sounded authoritative to the congregants at Nazareth? Because they were hearing the voice, or so they supposed, of their homey.

He will not settle down in our town. If we become his friends, it will be because we join him outside the gates.

But Jesus will never be our homey who assures us that we are OK until we first hear him as the stranger who tells us that we are not OK, until we accept his exotic words as authoritative, as so authoritative and powerful that they cast out the demons that indwell us (verses 33–37), until we have been unmade and remade by his word. That word may make us want to lynch him, or it may heal and liberate us and, over time, make us his friends. Either way, he will not settle down in our town. If we become his friends, it will be because we join him outside the gates, at the place of his lynching (Hebrews 13:3).

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