The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:1-3, NIV)
“Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.” (Luke 4:21, CEB)
The summer after high school, I performed a concert for my church. For probably an hour on a Sunday evening, I sang and played the piano and gave some testimony. I thought I could sing like Sandi Patti. Reader, I could not. I’m certain it was awful. I’ve since had some voice lessons and ten years of community theater musical experience. But then—my four-bar solo in Oklahoma senior year did not qualify me for the undertaking. Yet people smiled and clapped and told me how much they enjoyed it. They were my people, and I was theirs. I was going off into the big world of college with their applause, and nothing else mattered.
Jesus gives his first public teaching in his hometown. It makes sense. Home breeds comfort. The people are already on your side. You can’t lose. At first, that’s how the story plays out. They are on Jesus’ side.
“Everyone was raving about Jesus, so impressed were they by the gracious words flowing from his lips. They said, “This is Joseph’s son, isn’t it?” (Luke 4:22, CEB)
You can almost imagine the atmosphere.
“Wow, isn’t this awesome. Doesn’t he have amazing presence?”
“The best delivery of any preacher we’ve had!”
“And he’s all ours! Joseph’s son! Our own personal celebrity!”
It’s serious Stars Hollow vibes with Taylor running around excited about how this might finally get them a stop on next year’s tourist trolley. They love their rising star.
Jesus, however, immediately lets them know the hometown boy is not going to be theirs to own. He follows these words by reminding them that God didn’t always choose to heal and help those who assumed their right to divine ownership. Sometimes, God went elsewhere and performed miracles for others—for people far from imagining those rights. (Read the rest of Luke 4.)
With that pronouncement, things change significantly. No longer enamored with Jesus, the crowd tries to harm him. We might look at that and think—how could they flip a switch so fast? Yet the crowd displays an attitude that resides in many of us still.
The crowd lived by the belief that it’s nicer to own God than it is to accept Jesus’ radical agenda in their lives.
They want to claim Jesus. They want the miracles they’ve begun to hear about. They’re excited by the power and glory that might come to them because the hometown boy is theirs. They’re interested in the possibility that they might have an “in” with this up-and-coming celeb. He bursts that bubble quickly, and they get angry.
Sometimes, I act like this, too.
Haven’t I followed you a long time, Jesus? Don’t I do the right things? So I deserve to catch a break, right?
It can easily turn into judgmental ownership, too.
They aren’t following the rules. They don’t deserve to be in the Jesus club.
I get to make the calls, God, because you belong to me.
Isn’t that what we sometimes believe, just like Jesus’ first audience?
This is why I cringe when I hear someone say, “Well, my God wouldn’t…” and I always think to myself, But God isn’t yours, right? There is no possessive pronoun before the Divine.
Instead, Jesus stands up in that synagogue and embodies a radical, untamed, un-ownable Savior with a declared mission to unleash an upside-down kingdom of renewal—joy for the brokenhearted, healing for the sick, freedom for the oppressed, food for the hungry, comfort for those who mourn, justice for the poor. He also makes clear that he might offer those things to others we don’t think deserve it, all while we’re trying to keep him in our box.
The crowds’ reception of Jesus makes me ponder—Do I want “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” or am I more interested in “My will be done in heaven as it is on earth?”
Jill Richardson is the pastor of Real Hope Community Church near Chicago. She is the author of six books and a national speaker, as well as a contributor to books from Dayspring, Lillenas, and Christianity Today. Jill’s doctorate in "Church Leadership in a Changing Context" is helping her with her passion—passing on a healthy, creative church and doing it with the next generation. She is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Bethel Seminary (St. Paul), and Washington University. Her focus is on church leadership, creative preaching, immigration and refugees, women’s issues, and intergenerational leadership. She has an unnatural love for Middle-earth, chocolate marzipan, old musicals, fish tacos, oceans, cats, and Earl Grey. She believes in Jesus, grace, restoration, kindness, justice, and the Cubs. You can find her work at jillmrichardson.com.