“Truly I tell you,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” (Lk. 4:24-27, NIV)
Jesus mentions two stories from the Old Testament that represented an unpopular strand of Jewish tradition. Jews believed that they were the recipients of an exclusive choosing; that is, they believed that God’s choice of Abraham and Sarah, God’s choice of Israel, meant that God did NOT choose anyone else.
Story of the widow of Zarapheth in Sidon is significant that the Hebrew prophet Elijah is sent to a foreigner . . . and perhaps more radical to the audience, that he is sent to a woman.
Elisha is sent to heal the Syrian commander, Naaman, of leprosy. The reign of God extends beyond the borders of Israel, even into the land of Israel’s enemies, the Syrians.
Elijah and Elisha were Hebrew prophets, both Jews who were part of the chosen people. Yet in these two Old Testament stories, it is clear that the chosen people were chosen not to hoard the blessings of God, but to bring the benefits of the one God to all people. The focus is not on Israel and what Israel can receive from God, but on what they can offer to others…how they are to embody the blessing of Yahweh to all the peoples of the world. Elijah and Elisha, two prophets who were committed to God’s covenant with Israel, knew this.
Jesus’ words suggest that the people of Nazareth must come to realize this, also. Their own sense of what it means to be the people of God needs to be transformed. They are not God’s children in order to receive all of God’s blessings merely for themselves. They are God’s children in order to bring blessing to all people of the world. To be chosen by God means to be sent to others…even those outside the circle of inclusion you have drawn.
And this good news is accepted and embraced by the church, right? No. Not even close. The Nazarenes’ appraisal of Jesus changes with the telling of these two stories. They move from amazement to becoming so enraged that they drive him out of town and then seek to kill Jesus.
If we are going to follow Jesus, we have to come to a fundamental understanding of Jesus’ mission as the Son of God. We must also come to a fundamental understanding of God’s heart for the entire world. Because Jesus came for the entire world, as those who follow the path of Jesus, we are called to bring love, peace, blessing, and salvation (wholeness) to the entire world.