No Miracle for Nazareth

Do here in your hometown what we’ve heard you did in Capernaum.

Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons. He just did not do it in Nazareth. In Luke 4:18, Jesus told the people of Nazareth that he came to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy about restoring sight to the blind, but no one in Nazareth received healing for their eyes. That would happen somewhere else.

So how could Jesus tell the people of Nazareth with a straight face that Isaiah’s prophecy was being fulfilled in their hearing? Jesus’ miracles were foretastes of the age to come, but there were no miracles for the people of Jesus’ hometown. Where was their taste of freedom from the suffering they endured? Where was their sneak preview of heaven? Where was their down payment on the age to come?

In a famous episode of Seinfeld, long lines of people stood in a queue waiting to be served at a popular soup restaurant. The owner was a stern man, though, and he wanted his customers to do things in just a certain way. If you somehow displeased him, he would snap at you and send you away empty-handed.

No soup for you!

Was there to be no soup for the people of Nazareth? And if not, why not?

In one sense, this is a profound mystery with which we still live. There were many starving widows in Israel, but God fed only one poor foreigner through the prophet Elijah. There were many lepers in the prophet Elisha’s day, but God healed only Naaman the Syrian.

The people of Nazareth didn’t see it, but what they were looking for was there in their midst all along. To them, Jesus was just their hometown boy. They didn’t understand that it was Jesus himself who was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s hopes – the fulfillment, in fact, of the whole Biblical story.

Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.

Today in your hearing. Not eventually. Not sooner or later. Not after we leave the synagogue and I get around to it. Now, as you hear me speaking. This very second. The very act of taking my word into your ears, into your mind, into your heart, into the deepest part of your being. In that, the scripture is fulfilled.

To be in Jesus’ presence. To hear him speak. These were the foretastes of the age to come available to the people of Nazareth. In his person, the the future kingdom was already present. His word transformed reality. From his lips came the voice of God.

It is perhaps harder to see heaven coming to earth in the form of a rabbi reading some ancient words than it is to see it in withered limbs made whole and leprous skin made clean. The people of Nazareth couldn’t understand that the walking, breathing miracle in their midst was Jesus himself, not just what he did. It was his person, not his performance, that mattered most.

I will certainly pray that the power of God will deliver you from every captivity, just as it did for people in places like Capernaum and Bethsaida and Gennesaret. May the Lord free you from every form of bondage. I cannot promise you, however, that in this age you will experience every miracle you might desire. The consummation of all things is yet to come.

What I can promise you is this: what you are looking for is present in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. To hear him speak and to know his presence is what you need the most.

As John Wesley lay dying, his last reported words were these:

Best of all, God is with us.

God is indeed with us. He is with us just as he promised when we gather around his word and table. When you listen to the Holy Scriptures being read in the congregation of the faithful, believe Jesus’ word: all of God’s promises are fulfilled in him. When you share together with your brothers and sisters in the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, believe his promise: those who receive these gifts abide in him, and he in them. God is with us indeed!

No miracle for Nazareth? Well, there was one. The most important one. The only one that endures to eternity. The Lord of all eternity was with them. And he is with us as well. Thanks be to God.


Good News to the Poor
The Next Towns
There Were Many Widows in Israel
The Parousia and Theodicy