The Rejection of Jesus



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2 Kgs 5:1-15ab
Lk 4:24-30

Today’s Gospel reading comes from the end of a very important scene in the Gospel of Luke. It is the moment when Jesus’ public ministry begins, and this passage is part of his “inaugural address” to the people of his own home town. He has come to his home synagogue in Nazareth and proclaimed the Scripture reading from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor . . .” This prophetic passage goes on to speak of liberty for the captives, sight for the blind, and freedom for the oppressed. After completing his turn as reader, Jesus makes a definitive statement: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” The prophecy of Isaiah forms a framework for the ministry that Jesus is about to undertake.

The initial reaction to his words is favorable: “All spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” But the tide turns very quickly. Jesus reminds them that traditionally prophets are rejected in their own home towns, and he recalls for them that often it has been foreigners like the widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian who have been the recipients of God’s saving power. He will not be a prophet who is controlled by the narrow interests of friends and relatives or by the constricted worldviews of those in power. Suddenly, the home town crowd is not so favorable any more. Their reaction turns violent as they drive him out of town. This passage is emblematic of all that will follow in the gospel, as Jesus proceeds to announce good news from God and meets diverse reactions to his proclamation along the way. The frenzy of the crowd that tries to hurl him down the hill foreshadows his passion, when Jesus will be killed on the hill of Calvary.

During these weeks of Lent, we encounter a painful reality that is central to the gospels but difficult for us to hear: the rejection of Jesus. As we move closer to Holy Week, we see the tension mounting in the Scripture readings for Mass. As in today’s gospel scene, Jesus boldly moves ahead with his mission of proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, but his enemies among the political and religious leadership, and even among the once friendly crowds, turn against him. Jesus courageously and faithfully walks down an increasingly dangerous road.

It is difficult for any of us to deal with the experience of rejection. It must have been difficult for Jesus as well.  After all, he was commissioned to offer salvation from God and to be that salvation in his very person. In the person of Jesus, the God who had cured Naaman of leprosy was present to reach out and touch the leper who came to Jesus begging for mercy. The gospels suggest that this experience of rejection grieved the heart of Jesus deeply. Perhaps the mental pain of rejection by the people he had come to serve and offer life to was greater than the physical torment that Jesus endured in his passion. Yet he continued on faithfully, eschewing condemnation and even praying for those who rejected him.

All of us experience feelings of rejection at different moments in our lives. For most of us these experiences are not as severe as the blatant and deadly repudiation that Jesus encountered. But when we encounter a lack of acceptance by people who are important to us it is a painful and disheartening experience. It usually causes us to search our souls to try to find the reason for the rejection. Sometimes we cannot discover any clear or rational reason. Our immediate reaction may be to lash out in anger at the people who do not welcome us into their lives. There is something natural and quite understandable about such a reaction.

As people of faith, however, we can turn to Christ and recognize that he has known this experience, too. He has encountered it firsthand. And so he can be with us in his compassion as we try to negotiate and respond to situations in which we are not accepted by others. And we can ask for the grace to temper our natural inclination to resentment and retaliation. We can pray for the insight to understand the people who do not accept us a little better and to be free of resentment toward them. When we turn to Christ he always welcomes us into his presence. His loving welcome is the source of healing for the pain that we feel when we are not welcomed by others.

- Fr. Robin Ryan, CP joined the Passionist community while in college. Since ordination in 1984, Fr. Robin’s ministry has been divided between retreat ministry and teaching theology, along with responsibilities for ministerial formation. Currently he is Vice-Provincial of St. Paul of the Cross Province.

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