In today’s Gospel reading, Luke recounts the story of Jesus returning to Nazareth to preach in the synagogue. In the past, when I have read or heard this passage, I put myself into the story as a member of the audience. What must it be like to hear a man refer to himself as the fulfillment of Scripture? Surely I would also be amazed at his words—amazed at his promise to liberate captives, give sight to the blind, free the oppressed, and initiate the year of the Lord. I would also want to spread this news as widely as possible. I would probably tell everyone I met about it.
But reading this passage today, I am compelled to enter the story through a different vantage point. The climax of this story is clearly Jesus’s proclamation that “this Scripture passage is fulfilled.” However, right before that line, the Gospel author presses ‘pause’ on the action. He writes, “Rolling up the scroll, [Jesus] handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.” I have never paid attention to that sentence before today. I never realized that Jesus methodically rolled up the scroll and returned to his seat before announcing himself as the fulfillment of Scripture. It strikes me as a very human action, a hesitation, a deep breath taken before a plunge. It also leads me to wonder whether Jesus’s decision to make his proclamation was not partially a response to all of those eyes “look[ing] intently at him.” Perhaps he felt he owed the expectant audience something more.
Growing up in the church, I was taught that Jesus was both fully God and fully man. As I encounter stories in the Gospels, though, I tend to emphasize his divinity to such an extent that it creates a distance from his humanity. I neglect to imagine how Christ felt on a human level. How would it feel to read a prophecy and know that it referred to you? How would it feel to bear the weight of fulfilling that prophecy? What kind of nerves would you have in sharing that information with a hometown audience?
I appreciate pauses like these in the biblical narrative. They allow us to imagine, as much as we may, what might be going through Jesus’s head in crucial times. They also remind us of the value of hesitation itself. Our lives are full of significant moments and important choices. We would do well to take a breath before we proclaim our intentions.
—Andrew Fondell is an English teacher and moderator for the intramural ski & snowboard club