Stowaway in the Synagogue

(Luke 4:14-30)

This imagined version of today’s gospel from a different viewpoint goes slightly further into the narrative than the verses proclaimed in many churches.

Of course, girls weren’t allowed in the inner parts of the synagogue where the action was, especially that day when our town was turning out for the local boy. The rumors had circulated around Nazareth, over cooking fires and wells, as women hung out laundry and men gathered for long conversation. Not much happened here in this sleepy backwater, so excitement was high. I wasn’t going to miss the biggest event of the year. All I had to do was figure out a way to sneak in and listen, unnoticed.

If I pretended to be cleaning, that usually didn’t attract much attention. The men who couldn’t be bothered with sweeping or mopping assumed “someone else” would do it. They had their lofty sights on more important stuff, like whether to approve this teacher—as though they were experts and it were up to them! With a mop as my excuse and camouflage, I slipped into the fringes of the crowd that day, just close enough to eavesdrop.

The little I could hear was astonishing. The usual synagogue bombast told us how wicked we were, so I wouldn’t mind missing that. But this teacher was different. I strained to catch every word, about a powerful Spirit speaking good news—not to the usual audience of wealthy men, but to the poor. That had to mean me! And a promise that blind people, like my neighbor Sarah who was always so kind, would see? I avoided the jails in town—terrible places of iron bars, revolting smells, and somewhere lurking in the darkness, evil people. But even they would go free?

It unleashed a torrent of questions in my mind. Would this small man who from a distance looked so ordinary, start a revolution? Everyone stared at him in a hushed silence. I longed to be my cousin Ben, to whom he’d handed the scroll. Even an attendant got near the center of this whirlwind, which began with praise for gracious words.

But then why would he anger them? The challenge that followed—was it intended to weed out the looky-loos, those in the audience just there for a thrill to break the boredom that day? He reminded my people of those beyond Israel, to whom God had been kind. The nerve of God—sending Elijah to a widow in Sidon, or Elisha by-passing all the good Jewish lepers, and curing Naaman the Syrian. I suppose we knew the stories, but banished them to the margins, rarely ever aired them this publicly. Small and weak, we wanted assurance that we were the chosen people, with a special claim on God, and this teacher rubbed our noses in the fact that God had a larger view of humanity. As if God had created all?

Then the grumbling began, like thunder moving through distant hills, but growing louder in intensity and venom. The tide of self-righteous people that propelled Jesus out of the synagogue and towards a cliff was so strong, I got caught up in it. My mop lost in the swirl, no one seemed to notice a girl in the crowd.

I was terrified of peering down that hillside, dreading the heap I’d see at the bottom. But the most amazing thing happened. How could one man survive against so many bent on his destruction? When he “vanished into their midst,” I felt his shoulder brush mine. Ah—so that’s where he went! Like me, he took advantage of chaos and blended in. And there in our midst, somehow, is where he belongs and where he’ll always be. He left us with a mystery better than all the certain answers I’d ever heard.

Excerpt from More Hidden Women of the Gospels, Orbis Press, 800-258-5838,

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