Book Excerpt: John’s Gospel: The Way It Happened

“Isn’t that Jesus?”


“There.” The man pointed. “At the back of the synagogue. Standing at the head of that band of strangers.”

“I see him.” The president smiled, an old man, shoulders bowed and smallish, face crafted over the years into wrinkly, gentle jolliness. “Yes, it’s Jesus, son of Joseph! Let’s ask him to be our reader today.”

The Teacher, noting the conversation at the front of the synagogue, stepped forward without waiting for an invitation. He expected this, the appropriate honor for his visit back to his tiny homeland of Nazareth, and he had prepared carefully. The chosen topic today was in the writings of Isaiah. But as the president handed him an open scroll for reading, he immediately unrolled it to another location.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor,” Jesus began, his voice low but authoritative.

Taken aback, the old synagogue leader stepped up to the podium, pointing at the scroll. This was not the appointed reading!

Jesus held up a hand, palm out, and the smaller man paused. Jesus’ voice grew louder as he continued to read. “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind!”

A murmur rustled through the crowd, perhaps two hundred people. They knew the rumors, how Jesus forsook the heritage of his father and turned from carpentry to healing. But those were merely stories that found their way from the Sea of Galilee. The man had never returned here to display his talents. The last news heard in Nazareth was that Jesus had taken up with a man called the Baptizer.

“To release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor!” Jesus continued.

“The Lord’s favor?” a man in front sputtered. “This is not the year of the Jubilee.”

Jesus rerolled the scroll and handed it back to the president, the chosen passage still unread. In a gentler voice, he proclaimed, “Today is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” Then he stepped down from the small platform and strode to the back of the synagogue.

–John’s Gospel: The Way It Happened, 2013, by Lee Harmon

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