Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine
The second half of the story of Jesus first sermon in Luke is a total reversal of expectations. The audience assumes that Jesus' sermon means that Israel will receive consolation and reward and that the enemies of Israel will be destroyed and get nothing.In this assumption, which is a universal human assumption, the story of Isaiah's prophecy is understood to mean that "we" will finally receive the vindication, prosperity, and freedom "we" deserve and "they" will get it in the teeth. What Jesus proclaims in his interpretation of the story is that the blessings of the Kingdom of God will be extended to everyone, in particular, to our enemies.
The stories that Jesus refers to are the two classic stories of the prophets of Israel doing good for their enemies. The first is the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. There was a famine; he went to the village of Zarephath in the Gentile region of Sidon, longtime enemies of Israel. A woman came out to gather sticks. He said to her, "Give me something to eat," and she said, "I'm gathering sticks so that I can go and make a fire and cook the last part of the food and then we will eat it and die." Then Elijah says, "I don't care, get me something to eat." So she brings him the last bit of what she has to eat. He then tells her that this jar of meal and oil will feed them for months during the long famine and it does. The woman is a Gentile, a widow in a Gentile town outside of Israel.
In his sermon Jesus says, "There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah the prophet, when the heavens were shut up for three years and six months, and there were many widows who died of starvation, but he was sent to none of them, but rather to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Everybody in his audience knew what that meant. Sidon was located in what is now Lebanon. During the Israeli invasion some years ago when Ariel Sharon was the general of the Israeli army, Israeli forces went right up the coast through Tyre and Sidon. These were boundaries of hostility in the ancient world as well as now.
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