Early in his public ministry, Jesus returns to Nazareth, his home town, where he enters the synagogue on the Sabbath and reads from the book of Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Then he adds, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (21).
The home town folks are amazed, and at first they are favorably impressed. Jesus is proclaiming the reign of God, here, now, in their midst! Shortly, though, the encounter turns nasty, and they not only run Jesus out of town, they try to shove him off a cliff.
Why are the people of Nazareth offended by the words of Jesus? This is what Gerhard Lohfink says, in Jesus of Nazareth: What He Wanted, Who He Was:
The offense lies in the concreteness of the preacher: “Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22). That is: it is true that everyone prays for and dreams about God’s eschatological action, but in the hour when it actually happens it is evident that people had not imagined it quite this way. Not like this! not so concretely! not right here in Nazareth, and above all, not at this moment!
We know that there is a paradoxical “already” and “not yet” about the reign of God. However:
Jesus’ hearers prefer to push everything off into the future, and the story comes to no good end. The reign of God announced by Jesus is not accepted. The “today” offered by God is denied. And that, that alone, is why “already” becomes “not yet.”
According to Lohfink, it is not God who delays bestowing the blessings of God’s reign. No, we are the ones who say the “not yet.”
It was not only in Nazareth that the “today” of the Gospel was not accepted. Later also, in the course of the church’s history, it has again and again been denied or rendered toothless. The reason was the same as in Nazareth: apparently it goes against the human grain for God to become concrete in our lives. Then people’s desires and favorite notions are in danger, and so are their ideas about time. It can’t be today, because that would mean that our lives have to change today already. Therefore God’s salvation is better delayed into the future. There it can lie, hygienically and snugly packed, at rest, inconsequential (p. 32).
What about us?
“Come, Lord Jesus,” I pray.
And I also pray, “Thy kingdom come on earth…”
But am I adding—perhaps under my breath, perhaps so softly that I do not even hear it myself—“just not today, please”?