Physician Heal Yourself!

13 Sep
from Google Images

from Google Images

What did Jesus mean when he mentioned the proverb: ‘physician, heal yourself’ in connection with his rejection at Nazareth? Is it only a Jewish proverb?[1] Actually, it can be found similarly stated in secular literature too.[2] In the Bible it is found only in Luke, but, whether Luke is quoting Jesus exactly or paraphrasing, the statement does certainly seem to be an expression of sarcasm against Jesus’ claim about himself in Luke 4:19. The problem is the attitude is self defeating. Jesus’ words were words of grace, which was admitted by all (Luke 4:22). To demand grace is illogical. One cannot demand what one does not deserve or has no claim upon.

Notice that Jesus puts the proverb in the mouths of the people at Nazareth sometime in the future. The text doesn’t say that Jesus read their thoughts and thereby applied the proverb. A lot of folks believe Jesus had been healing and doing wonderful works before he came to Nazareth, but I don’t believe this is possible, or at least the text would be strained to cause it to say so. The theory is, because Luke tells us that Jesus preached in all the synagogues of Galilee and was glorified by all (Luke 4:14-15), that Jesus already had become quite famous before coming to Nazareth (cf. Luke 4:23).[3]

Folks conclude that the favorable response in Nazareth, namely that everyone marveled at Jesus’ words of grace (Luke 4:22a), was said in agreement with rumors they had heard of him elsewhere, especially Capernaum. Yet, the text is silent of such an explanation of Luke 4:22a, and I am suspicious of the reasoning behind it. Rather, I believe the response of those in the synagogue (Luke 4:22b) was part of the discussion. Jesus’ teaching method was not like the classrooms of our modern day. Discussion was involved, as were questions from those being taught. It was more like an open forum. The people may have told Jesus that his words were wonderful, but the proof was in the pudding or what he claimed to be so was too good to be true. They wanted proof—“…change these stones into bread or leap off the pinnacle of this building ‘if you are the Son of God’ (the Messiah). After all, we know you—we watched you grow up. You have never given the impression that you were more than one of us—common ordinary folk, just as much the subject of Rome as anyone else. Prove to us here and now that you are who you say you are.”

It seems by the context that the people of Nazareth required the proof of the prophet upon demand. That is, they refused to wait to see if what he said was true (Deuteronomy 18:22). Yet, the proof of the prophet is not merely the miracle but his words (Deuteronomy 13:1-3).

Jesus was the Anointed by God (the Messiah) and came to declare the ‘favorable year of the Lord.” That is, the time has come when poverty, enslavement and oppression would be abolished, just as in the year of jubilee (Leviticus 25). Therefore, lamentations over one’s condition should cease, and everyone is called upon to believe the ‘word’ of God, which Jesus had been ‘anointed’ to preach. Jesus never claimed to have been given anything by God other than the message (the word) that the Kingdom of God is at hand—repent, therefore, and believe the Gospel (the word). All things are true in ‘the word’ of God. Abraham believed ‘the word’ of God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.

What were the people of Nazareth supposed to do in order to do the work of God?—believe him who was sent to them (John 6:28-29), and don’t doubt ‘the word’. What did Jesus claim about the response of the people of Nazareth? They would one day tell him: “Physician, heal yourself!” (Luke 4:23a). In other words, Jesus came into the synagogue at Nazareth looking for faith in ‘the word’, but he found none. All Jesus had to offer was ‘the word’ – but it was the same ‘word’ that created the universe (Genesis 1). He needed faith to fulfill ‘the word’, but faith was lacking in the people, so he was a Physician without a cure[4] for his claim to be the Messiah. “Physician, heal yourself!”[5]


[1] See Genesis Rabbah 23.5; “Physician heal your own lameness.”

[2] See Euripides, Fragment 1086; “A physician for others, but himself teaming with sores.” Other reference can be found HERE.

[3] I believe Luke 4:14-15 is a kind of overall statement of Luke about what Jesus said and did over his entire ministry. After the statement he proceeds to give us the details. It is a kind of prelude presented before Jesus’ public ministry.

[4] Or a Messiah without proof.

[5] One may as well demand that God make a square circle. That is an impossibility; either the object is square or it is a circle; it cannot be both. Likewise, if God seeks faith in people, he cannot nurture faith, if the people continually demand evidence. So, Jesus claim he was the Messiah needed trust or confidence from the people to allow him to nurture or make good on their trust. If no trust is offered, but instead evidence is demanded, Jesus is a Physician without a cure for his predicament or a Messiah without anything to nurture that would prove his position.

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Posted by on September 13, 2016 in Gospel of Luke


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