Gospel Lectio Divina for Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Lectio Divina for Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

By David Kilby

Lk 4:21-30

Jesus began speaking in the synagogue, saying: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.  They also asked, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph?” He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.


“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

We read these same words at the end of last Sunday’s Gospel, the Gospel for the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time. That is fitting, because whenever we read the Gospel at Mass it is being fulfilled in our hearing, so it’s good to be reminded of that every now and then. We are reminded two weeks in a row because this is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the beginning of Ordinary Time, so it’s appropriate to emphasize the purpose of Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom–which is what his ministry is about afterall. But Jesus is doing more than just announcing the coming of the kingdom of God. He is proclaiming the beginning of a new age, the age of his Church. The Church is God’s kingdom on earth. Its time is now. The Gospel message, in fact all of Scripture is outside of time–timeless–and it being fulfilled today.

“Isn’t this the son of Joseph?”

We know Joseph as a great saint, but the people speaking here knew him only as a commoner. God often chooses those who are lowly in the eyes of the world to complete his plans. Moses, Samuel, Saul, and David–to name just a few–were all among the least expected to be chosen to carry out God’s will. But in God’s kingdom, the last shall be first and the first shall be last. Joseph may not have been on the lowest rung in first century Jewish society; he was a carpenter and probably made a decent wage for his small family. But the people probably didn’t expect him to play such an integral role in salvation history either. Being from Joseph’s house made the people think they knew all about Jesus, and this made them blind to God’s will. Do the things I think I know make me blind to his will also?

no prophet is accepted in his own native place.

These wise words can be applied to so many situations in my life. When I set out to accomplish something, I’m always thinking about what the people close to me would think. Will they think I’m not good enough to reach for such lofty goals in my life, because I simply haven’t accomplished anything close to it before? Oftentimes, those who know us well only think they know what we are capable of. If I feel intimidated by their impression of me in any way, the best thing to do is take courage and challenge that impression. Sometimes even those who say they love us have a lowly impression of us. That is why this Sunday’s Second Reading from 1 Corinthians 13 is important. St. Paul says love always hopes and love always believes, which means the ones who love us believe we are capable of great things because that’s what love does. What an interesting connection the Church makes this Sunday between the epistle and the Gospel. At first the connection is hard to notice, but the more I reflect on these two readings the more I see what the Church is trying to highlight. Look for those who love you, and confide in them. Jesus could have chosen the people who already knew him to be his apostles, but–as we see in this Gospel passage–they did not confide in him. Instead, he chose those who loved him to be his inner circle. He knew they loved him because they exhibited the attributes St. Paul describes. 

there were many widows in Israel … yet not one of them was cleansed

What is Jesus talking about here? What do these stories have to do with him and his neighbors questioning his abilities? He is saying love was the missing ingredient for all those widows and lepers. As much as Elijah and Elisha probably wanted to help those widows and lepers, only Zerephath and Naaman showed the faith and love necessary to be healed. If I go to God just looking for him to grant my petitions, he will search my heart and see if there is any love in my request. Love is the miracle. The actual miracle itself is simply the effect of that love. It is the necessary ingredient for miracles because it is God, and without God there can be no miracle anyway. Jesus is calling the people who have known him for years to look at their own hearts. They knew what Jesus was capable of doing. As Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” But he could not minister to them because of the lack of love in their hearts. When we know someone well, we can learn how to love them. But the people of his own native town thought they already knew Jesus, and therefore they did not bother to take the time to learn how to love him. Is there anyone in my life who I struggle to appreciate? Have I taken the time to truly get to know them? Perhaps if I did I would learn to love them, and then have greater faith and hope in what they could accomplish. 

When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury.

The people in the synagogue, in fact, exhibited many of the qualities opposite of the love St. Paul describes in this Sunday’s Second Reading. He says love is not jealous, yet we can perceive their jealousy as the balk at the idea of Jesus, a man they’ve known for years, being wiser than they are. Love is not pompous or inflated, yet we can see how they were pompous when they claimed to know Jesus when they really did not. Love is not quick-tempered and does not brood over injury, yet they apparently had a quick temper when Jesus spoke some words they didn’t like. They brooded over the injury the words of Jesus caused them, taking them as an insult, rather than accepting them as the truth. If they had succeeded in pushing Jesus over the cliff, we could imagine that they would have delighted in that wrongdoing. Love is not just one of the things St. Paul mentions. It’s all of them, or it isn’t love. It is not free of just one of the things St. Paul says it is not. It is free of all of them, or it is not love. St. Paul gave the recipe for love, and Jesus is demonstrating what happens–and what cannot happen–when we get it wrong. Being patient but not kind will not do the trick. Rejoicing in the truth, but also rejoicing in wrongdoing won’t either. Providing some of the ingredients of love without the others would be like making a pasta dinner without the sauce. It’s just not the same. 

 Jesus passed through the midst of them and went away.

A mysterious line closes this passage, and we are left to wonder how Jesus managed to slip out of a mob filled with furious people looking to kill him. While he couldn’t prophecy or perform miracles among them due to their lack of faith and love, heaven still protected him from harm. The Father’s protection was still with him. It’s an important detail to remember, because it’s easy to think the Lord is not present unless he reveals himself through some conspicuous way. But he is still among us nonetheless. As Jesus said, “Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign” (Matthew 16:4). But for those who believe, the way Jesus passed through the midst of the crowd unharmed is enough of a sign that God was with him. 



Thank you for the truths you reveal to me when I dive into your Word. I do indeed rejoice in the truth. It is very difficult to persevere in love in all the ways you call us to do so, but I know it will be worth it in the end. Jesus shows the way. He is the Way. Every lesson he teaches has abundant love in it as well as truth. You are trying to lead us to a deeper understanding of our existence, an existence that was made for love and for so much more than what we can fathom in our mortal bodies and our feeble minds. If only I could listen more closely. Teach me how to listen. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 


Whenever I struggle with a Gospel reading, I try to be patient so it can have time to settle in my heart, mind, and soul. This passage was difficult at first; it has a great deal of esoteric language. But even without understanding the full significance of Jesus’ words, I believe I was able to grasp the central message. This only came by quieting my heart, asking God to sympathize with me and reveal to me the message he wants me to hear. This is what lectio divina is all about. We read, we meditate on what we read, we pray for guidance, and we listen.


Kilby is a freelance writer from New Jersey and managing editor of Catholic World Report.

 Glory to the Father The Son and The Holy Spirit