What really sets off the crowd in Nazareth are the two Old Testament examples Jesus uses as paradigms for His ministry:
- He says that there were plenty of Israelite widows in the days of Elijah, yet the prophet was not sent to any of them; rather, Elijah ministered to a poor non-Israelite widow in Zarephath in Sidon, which was the heart of Baal worship in Canaan.
- Likewise, in Elisha’s day, there were many Jewish lepers, yet the only one that was healed was Naaman, another non-Israelite from Syria.
Jesus is making a pretty clear statement that He has been sent to minister not only to His “own” people, but to focus His efforts much more broadly. He’s not interested in making much of the city of Nazareth. Rather, He is focused on making much of the Kingdom of God.
And the radical idea that nearly gets Jesus killed is this: the Kingdom of God is available to everyone, even those people we might think have no business being included in the Kingdom.
Jesus is clearly saying that the Kingdom of God will extend beyond racial and national boundaries. Just like Elijah and Elisha before Him, Jesus is going to serve the non-Jewish peoples who were considered to be “unclean.” The Jewish teachers of Jesus’ day taught that the Jewish people couldn’t even use utensils and plates and cups if they had been touched by Gentiles. Better to throw these things out than to risk being contaminated by their Gentile “cooties,” or so the teaching went. But Jesus blows up that idea by saying that such people are going to be included in His ministry, in His year of Jubilee. His kingdom will be made up of every nation…all tribes and peoples and languages (Rev. 7:9).
These two examples also include those who were from lower economic and social classifications. Widows were usually among the poorest in the community because they didn’t have a husband to be their bread-winner. Lepers were considered the lowest of the lowly, not even allowed to live in community with everyone else but instead were banished to live only with other lepers.
Jesus is declaring the year of Jubilee for Gentiles and widows and lepers — basically, all the outcasts and misfits and all of those who were considered “unclean.” Jesus takes in all the stray dogs, rescuing them from the street and giving them a home. He is the all-time champion of the outsider and the underdog. Nobody in the history of the world has spoken a blessing to the meek, only Jesus. He says, “I have come to preach good news to the poor, to set the captives free, to give sight to the blind, and to declare the Good News of God’s favor.”