The following was an interpretive assignment in my final MAGL course. I’m not sure what kind of grade I’ll get, but I learned a lot studying this verse, and now sharing for my children. I pray that that their journey on earth is filled with vision for the poor among us.
In my final interpretive paper, I have selected Luke 4:14-28. In this passage, Luke narrates an inaugurating moment within Jesus’ public ministry when the Galilean stands before the Jewish congregation, opens a scroll to the prophet Isaiah and reads:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18
After rolling up the scroll and handing it to the attendant, Jesus, in dramatic fashion, succinctly states, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” While the initial reaction among the congregation seemed positive, the ensuing narrative caused quite a stir. Luke records a series of statements from Jesus which include a reference to Elijah and the widow Zaraphath as well as Elisha’s encounter with the Syrian leper named Naaman. The Jews in the synagogue are immediately filled with rage. They form a mob and even attempt to throw Jesus off a cliff!
As a 21st century western reader, the scene in Luke 4:14-28 can seem bewildering. What is going on here? Why has the crowd turned from joy to rage? Is there a connection between Luke’s use of Isaiah in this passage and the narrative structure in his two volume work? In other words, are there clues within Luke’s narrative structure that give us a hint as to why this story has been selected, or is this simply a re-working of Mark 6:1-6 as Luke’s source text?
As a working thesis, I’d like to suggest that Luke’s use of Isaiah in our text alongside several other Old Testament Messianic references sets an intentional thematic stage from which the entire Luke-Acts narrative is performed, namely, the Gospel is liberation for the poor.
I will begin with a historical summary of the Luke-Acts work, it’s literary form, general narrative structure, and then move to a survey of the text addressing some of my main questions that have puzzled me as a believer reading from an entirely different social and cultural location. Integrated within this paper, I will consider a number of scholarly voices on the topics at hand, and close with a personal summary of my learning.
II) Historical Summary
Luke, the evangelist, travelling companion, and beloved physician of the
Apostle Paul , is regarded by most historians as the author of the unified, two-volume
Luke-Acts work. “The extensive linguistic and theological agreements and
cross-references between the Gospel of Luke and the Acts indicate that both works
derive from the same author” (Schnelle 1998, 259).
Educated and fluent in Greek, little details are given concerning Luke’s
conversion, or life before his conversion to the Christian faith, but it is commonly held
that Luke was a gentile convert. Writing towards the end of the first century, Luke
begins both of his works addressing “the most excellent Theophilus” as the intended
recipient. History is silent on Theophilus, though some speculate it to be a pseudonym
due the literal translation of his name, lover of God.
Concerning Luke’s audience, historians have “failed to achieve anything
approaching a consensus” although most agree that Luke-Acts was written primarily
for a Christian audience (Achetmeire 2001, 155). Luke wrote Luke-Acts in order to provide an accurate, orderly account of the life and ministry of Jesus, and the Spirit. In terms of genre category, Luke-Acts are part compiled history, part narrative, functioning together as historiography.
III) Literary Structure
Introduction to Jesus & John the Baptist 1:5-4:13
Jesus and His Mission 4:14-9:50
Journey to Jerusalem 9:51-19
Final Week in Jerusalem 19-24
Luke begins his narrative by paralleling the miraculous encounters that took place preceding the birth of both John the Baptist, and Jesus. The first chapter is packed with prophetic overtones, old testament references, Mary’s Magnificat and concludes with Zecharias prophesy after witnessing the birth of his son. In chapter two, Luke narrates the angelic encounter with the shepherds, the birth of Christ, then quickly moves to the dedication of Jesus at the temple where Simeon and the Prophetess Anna react to the Christ child. Luke concludes chapter two with Jesus as a 12 year old boy, tending to his father’s business and a frantic search party led by his worried parents. In chapter three, Luke moves back to John the Baptist, now operating in his prophetic role, baptizing and calling Israel to repentance. Luke records the baptism of Jesus by John, and concludes the chapter with a review of the ancestry of Jesus.
As we reach chapter four and move closer to our text, Luke first takes us to the temptations of Christ in the wilderness, led by the Spirit. It’s after this wilderness experience that Christ returns to Galilee, now “filled with the power of the Spirit.” Jesus’ public ministry seems now in operation as Luke notes he was teaching in the area synagogues and, “a report about him spread through all the surrounding country.” If you accept the outline of the Gospel of John, our text takes place about one year after the temptations of Christ in the wilderness (Bock 1996, cccvii).
Luke-Acts belongs to the category of historiography, however, it’s focus on theological concerns, rich prophetic intertextuality, and a focus on the miraculous beginnings of both Christ and John the Baptist show us that Luke was concerned with much more than a detailed chronology of events in the life and ministry of Jesus. As N.T. Wright suggests, “Luke is not simply collecting bits of tradition and stringing them together at random” (Wright 1992, p. 382) but rather “He is telling his story in a particular way in order that it may say, as much by its shape and outline as by its detailed content” (380).
As I consider the overarching themes pervading the first four chapters, it seems necessary to first consider what Luke’s original audience may have understood to be Luke’s intention. In other words, before I can consider the scene in chapter four and the questions of why the Galilean crowd turned on Jesus after his reading of Isaiah 61:1, I need to ask what Luke may be up to preceding our text.
IV) Possible Themes in Chapters 1-4
Question: Is there a common structural pattern emerging from Luke’s first four chapters which might shed light on our text?
Once you see the structure, the movement, you understand the whole thing” (Gorman 2020, p. 95). I have found several thematic movements to consider, including the fulfillment of the everlasting Davidic Kingdom in Jesus. The Jewish community would certainly find the references and allusions to Luke’s opening chapters strikingly similar to the opening chapters of 1 Samuel!
Another thematic tone is set with reference to the initiating and empowering role of God’s spirit throughout every major scene. You could say that the main character in Luke’s narrative is in fact, the Holy Spirit. This thematic focus on the role of the Holy Spirit leaves no doubt that for Luke, each event unfolding in the coming of Christ was not by accident, but a fulfillment of God’s orchestrated design. This is affirmed by the opening verse of Luke, in which the author affirms his intention to record the events that have (past tense) been fulfilled among us. Who has the capacity to both prophetically plan and fulfill those promises but God alone?
Lastly, a theme which will serve as my focus for the remainder of this analysis, is Luke’s narrative focus on the Gospel to the poor. This theme, as found in Mary’s Magnificat, as well as Simeon’s address, is also consistent with our text in chapter four in the reading of Isaiah 61:1. I will briefly summarize my learning in these texts as it relates to the poor, and how this particular theme informs my inquiry as to why the Jewish congregation became so angry.
Mary’s Magnificat? (1:46-55)
Luke highlights two women in his opening chapters, which in itself is a challenge to the rigid patriarchal social structures of first century Judaism, not to mention within Roman and pagan cultures as well. Women were counted as property, in the hierarchy of ownership, and lived under the yoke of being second class citizens. In the Mediterranean world of Luke-Acts, one’s status in a community was not so much a function of economic realities. Rather, to be poor in Luke’s world related to “a person’s education, gender, family heritage, religious purity, vocation, and so on” (Green 1997, 210). To be poor, then, was to be on the outside looking in, immobile, and on the fringes of societal acceptance. As Green suggests, within Judaism specifically, the poor were those “Outside the boundaries of God’s people” (210).
It’s in this framework that one might begin to understand both Elizabeth’s and Mary’s reaction as elevated above and beyond any value they had ever experienced within their lifetime. “For he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant” (1:48). Mary knew her value within the oppressive systems of the world, which made God’s benevolence all the more striking to her. This theme, narrated by Luke in her famous song, pulls out more of this undermining kingdom theme of liberation. “He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts… brought down the powerful, and lifted up the lowly” (1:50-51). Mary, a poor, virgin without any ties to the powerful and elite in her world, is experiencing the emancipating nature of God’s directed, personal mercy. She sees herself as the lowly. It is the hungry that God will now fill with good things, and the rich that control the affairs of this temporal world that will be sent away empty (1:53).
Mary has become rich, elevated and filled with dignity as a chosen vessel of the Most High. The poor for Mary are those positioned for favor, they are the hungry mouths that God will fill. Luke, in this passage carefully balances the condition of the positioned heart that fears God, with the abundance of mercy and favor which one may experience. He also is sure to root the promises of this miraculous birth as fulfillment of Israel’s hopes, promises she recollects as made to Abraham, which would solicit Genesis 17:4, the father of many nations. Is Luke intentionally weaving the mission Dei, the gospel to the nations here in Mary’s song?
“Mary’s song voices themes that will re-appear throughout Luke-Acts” (Green 1997, 102). As one considers the ministry of Christ to the poor, the oppressed, imprisoned, and then the Acts ministry extended to the same demographic through the Church, it seems like Luke is doing just that as Luke follows naturally with despised shepherds, not rich officials, at Christ’s birth in 2:8. Why else is Luke including such details as the family offering prescribed by the poor in 2:24?
One could say Luke’s entire Luke-Acts movement portrays the prophetic Magnificat in motion as the self exalted are exposed by the teaching of Jesus, and the humble are in word and deed lifted up through healing, inclusion, and love (18:14)
Simeon’s Prophecy (2:25-33)
Luke moves the reader from the birth of Jesus to his dedication in the temple. Simeon is presented as a righteous man who was “looking forward to the consolation of Israel” (2:25). As in Mary’s song, Luke is clear to root the fulfillment of Jesus the Christ in the chosen people of God. When Simeon took the baby Jesus in arms, he realized that his hope was not in vain and exclaimed, “my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light to the Gentiles, and for your glory to your people Israel.” Here, a Jewish, devout man, who’s hope was tied to a national hope, expressly identifies with his physical eyes, the salvation of God in the person of Jesus. Simeon is clear to expound that this salvation has not been accomplished in secret, but in public view, for all to see. The material reality of Christ was furnished by God for Israel, but anyone with eyes to see could see! “Israel’s salvation was not to be a private affair only: it was to be for the benefit of all” (Achtemeier 2001, 381).
Light, in scripture dispels ignorance, and brings revelation to those groping in darkness. Simeon’s declaration of Christ being light to the Gentiles borrows heavily from Isaiah’s vision of salvation in chapters 40-66. Salvation was intended all along, according to Isaiah, Simeon and Luke, for both the Jews and the whole world. God’s favor was not for the elite and those within the structures of worldly acceptance and religion, but aimed towards the whole world.
Like in the Magnificat, Luke seems to be structuring an apologetic that Christ has come, by the sending Spirit of God, for the world. Perhaps there was confusion regarding the promises of God towards Israel, and Luke is trying to provide comfort to the Jews, and a perspectival framework for newly included Gentiles as beneficiaries in this surprising new covenant? It’s clear that Luke is including both Jew and Gentile, and building a narrative that supports such a lens. Advent of Jesus is “deeply rooted in the ancient covenant with Abraham and the promise of a Messiah in the lineage of David, and his mission is fully consonant with God’s promises and intent” (150) .
V) Our Text – Jesus in the Temple (4:16-30)
We’ve established that Luke views God’s mercy extending beyond the circles of Judaism, we will now turn to our primary text in Luke 4:16-30 where Jesus reads from Isaiah 61:1.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18.
The book of Isaiah, as we have previously noted, is already a favorite of Luke, it’s emancipating message is weaving a tapestry of messainic overtones throughout the first several chapters. The nation of Israel, in its already long history, has been through 400 years of Egyptian slavery, and now in Isaiah, freshly freed from exile for another 70 years in Babylon. Isaiah 61 is post-exilic, which makes for an interesting question; Why is there still a message of prophetic liberation ringing through this book? It might make sense for Isaiah 61 to be situated before, or even in the midst of captivity, but after? One scholar suggests that “Isaiah 61 provides one of the earliest attestations of a theological exile that extends beyond the temporal and geographical bounds of the Babylonian captivity” (Bradley 2007, p. 475). This is an interesting thought. Is it possible that God, through Israel, was puncturing the illusion that a national, political state was the telos of God’s agenda, and that though they were technically, geographically, politically liberated, there’s another sort of liberation underfoot? Was God illuminating a path towards something only imagined through the establishment of a new covenant, through a new kingdom, and future king?
Scholars agree that this verse from which Jesus reads, “plays an important and pivotal role in the development of theological motifs and hermeneutical methods during the postexilic period” (Bradley 2007, p. 475). The text would have been possibly a favorite among the congregation in Nazareth that day. It would offer hope to a people who may have felt they never really experienced the full reality of liberation which echoes through the prophets. As Jesus reads this post-exilic prophecy in chapter 61, we should consider that Israel is now, once again, under the oppression of another super power, Rome!
Isaiah, however, does more than provide the character of this present, or future emancipation for those in forms of imprisonment, blindness and oppression, it reaches back to Leviticus 25 in another intertextual reference towards the “favorable year of the Lord.”
A) The Emancipation of Jubilee
In the constitutional code received at Sinai, Leviticus records a fascinating requirement for the people of Israel when they enter their new land. Every seven years, they were to rest the land as a Sabbath offering to the Lord. Ceasing from planting, and pruning, would provide rest from work, particularly for slaves for the entire seventh year. This act of trust and reset was magnified even greater after this rhythm was repeated seven times (49 years) on what was called the Year of Jubilee.
In this 50th year, a trumpet was sounded, and a proclamation set forth:
“And you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a Jubilee for you: you shall return, every one of you, to your property, and every one of you to your family.” Leviticus 25:10
Jubilee (Hebrew: יובל yōḇel) referred to the continuous blast of horn, most like from a ram. It’s root is found in the flowing nature of a stream, and thus the ongoing declarative signal which would capture the attention of everyone for this momentous occasion.
When I consider the text found in Leviticus chapter 25, a term comes to mind; divine reset. This year long festival was focused on those caught in difficult situations from which they could not, without aid from another, be liberated. Those caught in debts, in various forms of slavery , even family members of slaves would be emancipated and given respite. Land was returned to the families of origins, debts cancelled, and specific instructions given to those in positions of power to relinquish their status, and to respect the plight of those caught in oppressive social conditions. Cast against the ways Israel was most likely treated under the harsh yoke of Egyptian taskmasters, God was reforming, it seems, his people and how they were to treat one another with this divine reset, this second chance which it would be presumed everyone might experience once in their lifetime. While there’s no record that Israel actually practiced this year of Jubilee with any consistency, the concept of emancipation and the hope that God wanted his people to have was set forth. God concludes the governing Jubilee requirements with an emphatic reminder that Israel is his servant, he emancipated them, and this Jubilee year was a reminder who exactly has divine authority among his people to set the moral framework and social order.
With this in mind as some of the behind the text framework for our text in Luke, we can understand how Isaiah chapter 61:1 would only solicit positive feelings among the congregation, at least at first. For the practicing Jew in the synagogue that day, Isaiah’s echoing of the Day of the Lord might bring solace to those suffering under the yoke of Roman power structures and restrictions. Who wouldn’t want to be freed from debts, or emancipated from generational bondages of poverty, slavery, or physical ailments? Luke seems to be emphasizing the true authority of Christ, the omniscient One that is not simply a dispenser of gifts but is life itself, affirming that “as one does not live by bread alone, so one does not live by miracle alone” (Kigallen 1989, 516). The crowd, according to Kilgallen, was expecting the wrong thing from Jesus. They were willing to believe that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Isaiah prophecy, but “this fulfillment meant that something wonderful would come their way” (34). Green concurs, suggesting that Jesus was essentially ‘one of us’ and they ‘see themselves as the immediate beneficiaries of the Lord’s favor” (Green 1997, 214).
Jesus, however, after reading this encouraging text, in dramatic fashion, sits down. Perhaps the audience was surprised the reading was so short, perhaps they were expecting a homily from this aspiring teacher? With all eyes fixed on him, Jesus declares matter of factly, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” “The claim to contemporary fulfillment of an ancient prophecy implied that the ministry of Jesus was an eshatological event” (Leaney 1983, 258). Luke mentions the immediate reactions of those in attendance as being positive, this was after all a local young man, and if there was a fulfillment of Jubilee in any respect, what better situation could they be in than to have it begin in their town?
Jesus then quotes from a well known maxim from antiquity, “Doubtless, you will quote to me this proverb; Doctor cure yourself!” Scholars aren’t all in agreement with this meaning, but agree that textually it should be understood with the following sentence, “Do here also in your hometown and the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” Jesus, being from this home town, knew that they were not embracing his identity as the Messiah. Luke will show us later in his Gospel, and into Acts that in fact, Jesus’ prediction was correct and what the people were anticipating and believing for was not the true emancipation, but rather temporal signs and wonders in keeping with their vision for earthly liberation. Jesus “interprets his ministry as the fulfillment of the eschatological Jubilee, a dramatic cipher for the age of salvation, marked above all by the ministry of release” (Achtemeier 2001, 162).
Jesus was not pointing, it seems, to a future reality anymore, but that Jubilee was a person in their midst!
If the revelation of the congregation’s unbelieving hearts wasn’t enough to raise the temperature in the synagogue, Luke now records Jesus’ further interrogation as Jesus directs their attention to two, seemingly obscure passages in 1 and 2 Kings. Elijah and Elisha, just two of the many prophets sent by God but suffered rejection from Israel. Jesus, seems to be naming himself among the prophets who, even though he is empowered by the Spirit to bring the true nature of Jubilee, will be rejected and suffer as well at the hands of the religious. Using textual parallelism from 1 Kings 17:8-24 and 2 Kings 5:1-19, Luke briefly narrates the content of Jesus’ message to the congregation. Elijah and Elisha were sent to the poor, in the holistic Lukan sense of being helpless. The poor widow Zarapeth was outside of Israel’s borders, from Sidon , Baal worshippers! Yet, during a great famine, God uses an enemy of Israel to help care for the prophet. Elisha, in a similar story, was used by God to heal a foreign commander, the king of Aman (Syria) who had leprosy despite there being many lepers in Israel left without healing.
So, why did the crowd become so enraged? I would suggest that this passage is serving a two-fold purpose for Luke. Firstly, this really happened, so in a historical sense, Luke is giving us some insight into what Jesus actually taught in the synagogues. No other place in all of scripture records the actual content of one of his synagogue readings or addresses. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly to the Lukan narrative, Luke is using this story as a precursor to what the ministry of Jesus will look like in character, and the reactions from within Judaism’s power structures this ministry will solicit as the emancipation is experienced. For the Jews, the sabbatical year is underway, slaves are being set free, healing and liberation was always to come to those on the fringes, and the Lord God has the power to demand it be this way.
B) Gospel for the World
It’s important to remember that every text is located in a context. “In Luke 4:16-30 we’re dealing with the conflation of several materials” (Siker 1992, p. 74). In our case, the anger arising from the congregants is situated by Luke in the story, at this time, for a purpose. “Luke has shaped his narrative, then, the ministry of Jesus in Nazareth at the outset of his public ministry is of central importance to the Gospel as a whole. He is establishing a critical narrative need for Jesus to perform in ways that grow out of and reflect this missionary program” (Green 207 – The Gospel of Luke). Commentators agree that that the unique chronology of Luke, referencing for example miracles in Capernaum in 4:23 which most likely are referencing future miracles which would occur later in Jesus ministry, are examples of Luke building a narrative and unconcerned with sticking to Luke or Matthew’s particular timelines. Some other sources suggest this is a result of additional Lukan sources, however in my opinion, his departure from the Mark 6 account is significant enough to suggest a narrative departure and is consistent with Luke’s desire to make Galilee a home base for his story arch. Additionally, textual critics suggest 4:24 isn’t even in the voice of Jesus and is most likely Luke’s. Was Luke reemploying Jesus’ words from 7:22? Either way, the point for Luke is that Jesus is on the move, the Gospel is universal for the whole world.
From this point forward, the ministry of release through Jesus ministry to the Jews and Gentiles alike will reveal in living color what Luke has been establishing in chapters 1-4. “In order to make this claim, Luke’s narrative must be concerned with far more than recounting selected events; he must demonstrate their significance and interpret them against the horizons of Israel’s past, Israel’s Scripture and Israel’s hopes” (Achtemeier 2001, 154). Namely, “God acts dynamically against the proud and powerful; as the merciful God of the covenant” (Green 1997, 102). In the first verses of Luke, he has already established his opinion that the life and ministry of Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises. “Luke believed that, prior to Jesus, Israel’s story had yet to reach its climax. The exile was not over; redemption had yet to appear” (Wright 1992, p. 381). These promises of liberation are a divine reset, and exceedingly good news for the poor, the blind, the sick, the sinner!
C) Is this Text Anti-Semmetic?
There are some interesting disagreements among scholars as to the nature of Luke’s gospel message to the Gentiles. Being a gentile himself, was Luke overreaching by suggesting the Gospel was only for the outsider, and therefore suggesting that Jesus from the onset was rejecting the Jews?
There is broad agreement among scholars that Luke 4:16-30 “functions in a programmatic way for the whole of Luke and anticipates the Gentile mission so central to Acts” (Siker 1992, p. 75). However, how this is accomplished exactly is a matter of ongoing dispute. For example, Siker suggests that Luke is using this moment in chapter four to chart a clear vision of Jesus’ mission to the Gentiles. “Luke does more than just hint at a later Gentile inclusion in Acts, rather uses this inaugural sermon of Jesus exactly to proclaim Gentile inclusion as part of the gospel message” (Siker 1992, p. 74. Silker goes on to suggest the theme of reversal in Isaiah 61 is consistent with the inclusion of the Gentiles and that “the gentile inclusion and gentile mission are the lens through which Luke sees the ministry of Jesus even though chronologically Luke keeps the Jew-first strategy.” Other scholars disagree with this notion that it is here in chapter four that the mission of God pivots towards the Gentiles suggesting that Luke has “already provided an interpretive guide” (Green 1997, 207) through the narrative of Jesus’ miraculous birth, a birth clearly set forth for all of the world. Green suggests that there is no further need for suggesting a Jewish-Gentile dualistic approach. In other words, Luke’s narrative for the Gospel to both Jew and Gentile is established from the onset of his narrative in the opening chapters, and that by the time we reach chapter four, “there is thus far in the Lukan narrative no inherent, salvation-historical necessity for the extension of the good news to the Gentiles to be accompanied (much less caused by) the rejection of the Jews” (Green 1997, 207).
I don’t believe Luke’s text is anti-semmetic. It seems to be rather, a clarification of God’s intention all along towards bringing His loving mercy to the whole world, though , not just to the chosen people of Israel. In summary, I concur with most scholars that the Jewish congregants are angry precisely because the Messiah is coming for the whole world, a fact which in itself upsets the theological and political vision of temporal, physical Israel. In my opinion, Luke’s vision of salvation is a restorative treatment of Israel’s history of rejecting God’s movement towards the nations which was a reflection of their limited ideological construct upon God’s covenant with Abraham from the start. The congregants, as well those that opposed Jesus and the prophets before him, however, might consider that in itself as opposing Israel, but surely that’s a matter of interpretation!
D) Kingdom Motif at Work
While not a primary theme for this paper, one cannot overlook the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth in the discussion of Jewish – Gentile relations. The ministry of Jesus which follows chapter four, is an important context for appreciating his narrative work in chapters 1-4. As Wright notes, “The kingdom of Israel’s god, which is inaugurated in public history, powerfully subverts the pagan world and its kingdoms without using armed force” (Wright 1992, p. 382). The theological vision of Christ coming as the Davidic fulfillment, ushers in a new era where Christ’s eternal kingdom, which is not of this earth, is supplanting the kingdoms of this world, of which Israel has become enmeshed. Through this lens, we can see that “Luke has told the story of Jesus in such a way as to legitimize him as the true Davidic king” (382), the “true fulfillment of the Jewish scriptures” (380), a reality understood retrospectively by Luke we can understand through his structural narrative.
The ministry of Christ then, which is underway immediately following our text, becomes a demonstration of the nature of this new kingdom to the whole world, liberating those often caught in worldly power structures and suffering helplessly without hope in this life. “Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and the sending of the divine spirit, are the end-product of the long story that began with David and the divine promises made to him.” (Wright 1992, p. 381)
As a 21st century western believer, I recognize that “reading from location is a universal human experience.” Without intentional study, this exercise has reinforced the notion that “each Gospel is to be understood as a story complete in itself.” As I join the ongoing theological conversation on this, or any text in Scripture, I must remember that “Scripture invites us into a world we could not imagine on our own.” The more I study Luke’s world, I sense an invitation to consider the nature of the good news more deeply.
I see an emerging invitation from Luke, one that echoes through Levitus 25, Isaiah 61, Luke 1-4, and ultimately reverberates through the book of Acts. I have only scratched the surface of Luke’s narrative on a personal level, and more learning is required before I make any significant claim confidently. For now, I’m content to recognize, as stated in my working thesis, that “the images of Luke 4 cannot be treated as individual promises, broken up from each other.. The imagery operates as a unit, picturing the totality of Jesus’ deliverance” Bock 1996, cccxvii). This could be said of the entirety of Luke 1-4. Luke’s high level narrative reveals the “centrifugal shape to the mission ” and Spirit’s focus in “crossing all boundaries and inclusive of all peoples” with an unrelenting interest in the marginalized and dispossessed.” From the births of both John the Baptist and Jesus, the songs, prophecy and references from Isaiah, Luke’s emancipating nature of salvation has been thematically, and brilliantly established by the time we reach Luke 4:16-30, leaving little doubt that the angry reaction is also thematic, and will echo through the rest of his work as God proclaims good news, but only some find it good.
In closing, as a call to the post-modern, emerging global church, perhaps many of us are still awaiting some future moment, and overlooking the theological nature of Jubilee’s release in this present reality? The reaction of the Jews should startle us. Perhaps that was Luke’s narrative intent for the original readers. The call to embrace the gospel message to the poor should be met by the church as a celebratory blowing of the ram’s horn. Yet, how many in the church continue to cling to their places of power and safety, finding security in this life rather than Christ’s love? How many believers would celebrate the rhythmic emancipation of Jubilee, the letting go of worldly possessions, being forced to lean into God regularly in a divine reset? For whom is the good new truly good, the sick, or healthy, rich or poor, secure or helpless?
Perhaps the church’s need, particularly in the Western Christendom structures, is much like Israel’s in the past – to come out from the world, to be the shining light for the world, one must shed it’s utilitarian structures, the prisons of domination and hierarchy. If God’s Jubilee was a theological vision, perhaps we’re to live in a reality that holds all things loosely, that suffers alongside, divests like Christ and liberates through love. How can we incarnate among the lost and hurting of our world if we’re busy securing the very structures that divide us from them?
Regardless of our race, place, or social space we inhabit, “The church should proclaim to all the oppressed the coming day of social and economic reversal, while practicing in the present to pardon, and love her enemies and to work for the universal release from oppression and exploitation, from guilt and the power and dominion of sin” (Leany 1983, 259).
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Gorman, Michael J. 2020. Elements of Biblical Exegesis: A Basic Guide For Students
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