Thursday, February 16, 2012

Luke 4:14-30 Commentary - The Beginnings of Jesus' Ministry in Luke's Gospel

Luke 4:14-30 14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17 The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 "The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
     because he has anointed me
     to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
     and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
     19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they asked.
23 Jesus said to them, "Surely you will quote this proverb to me: 'Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.'"
24 "I tell you the truth," he continued, "no prophet is accepted in his hometown. 25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah's time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed--only Naaman the Syrian."
28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Biblical Exegesis and Study of Luke 4:14-30 - Pete's Bible Commentary

This story of Jesus unrolling the scroll of Isaiah in the local synagogue was following his baptism (Luke 3:21-23), and subsequent time in the wilderness being tempted by Satan (Luke 4:1-13). What an amazing moment in time, as Jesus unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, found the section we now know of as Isaiah chapter 61, and he read his mission manifesto. He outlined to his listeners, his specific role within the mission of God (missio dei). Let me unpack a little of what Jesus says:
  • The Spirit of the Lord is upon him (Luke 4:18)
  • The Spirit has anointed him (Luke 4:18)
    • To preach good news to the poor (Luke 4:18)
    • To proclaim freedom for prisoners (Luke 4:18)
    • To bring recovery of sight to the blind (Luke 4:18)
    • To released the oppressed (Luke 4:18)
    • To proclaim the year of the Lord's favour (Luke 4:19)
Jacques Matthey says ("Luke 4:16-30: The Spirit's Mission Manifesto," International Review of Mission, 89, No. 352, Jan 2000):
'There is a clear holistic liberation emphasis in the Spirit's mission program: the aim is to radically change the spiritual, personal, social and economic conditions of all the victims, of all those who have been put aside by religious, social, political or economic developments in society.'
Interestingly when quoting Isaiah 61:1 and the first part of 61:2, he does not go on to mention the second part of Isaiah 61:2, which says, 'and the day of vengeance for our God'. Maybe this was because Jesus was talking about the current moment, and not so much the eschatological idea of judment. However so, it is refreshing to ponder the positive nature of the priorities given to the ministry of Jesus.

We must unpack briefly the idea of Jubilee that Jesus is referring to in Luke 4:19. What is Jubilee? Jubilee relates to Old Testament days (see Leviticus 25:8-55) when the Israelite people were asked to 'consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land' (Lev. 28:10). During this time people who had debts were free from those burdens, and the aim was for, 'economic and religious unity of the people of God' (Matthey). It is improbable that the Israelites ever enacted the year of Jubilee, but Jesus brings it to the forefront of his listeners saying that he is anointed by the Spirit to 'proclaim the year of the Lord's favor' (Luke 4:19). The time of Jubilee thus has come to the Christians who would follow in the years to come - including us. The time of joy in the Holy Spirit, and the forgiveness and liberation for those who are held captive (spiritually, physically, mentally, etc). The time of Jubilee is here.

Jesus becomes controversial when he mentions that Elijah went to a 'widow in Zarephath', who is a Gentile woman. He then refers to Elisha cleansing a leper, who is also a Gentile (Naaman the Syrian). For Jewish listeners this is on the verge of blasphemy. Firstly, Jesus claims to be the fulfilment of the words from Isaiah 61:1-2, and now is inferring that the mission that he intends to fulfil is also relevant to the Gentile people. The Jewish listeners wanted to throw his off the cliff, and so were obviously not ready to embrace the universality of his mission.

The Luke 4:14-30 passage when taken by itself becomes a great encouragement for today's church, with a mission that is really about liberation from pain and hurt and the restoration of the people of God. It encapsulates much of what the social mandate for followers of Jesus entails today. When put alongside passages such as the great commission in Matthew 28:16-20, or fullness of life in John 10:10, the great commandement in Matthew 22:34-40, and passages like Colossians 1:15-20, we have a broad view of what God's mission is about.

This Lukan passage 4:14-30 is part of Pete's Bible Commentary

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