Luke 4:14-21 (click to display NIV text)
Jan. 27, 2013
Pastor Dwight A. Nelson
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.”
On Friday I asked the men’s Bible study group what they had experienced in times of returning to their hometown or to a family gathering after being gone for a time. For one the family had changed drastically in his absence and so there was no celebration of his return. For another, the town had changed drastically in the intervening years, so the setting for the reunion was almost unrecognizable. For several of us there seemed to be no change in the people of our hometowns or families, so they were unable to affirm that we in fact had changed, had grown, and become something other than the funny little kid they had known. So often, when you return home after being away, people do not know who you are; they only know who you were.
Jesus returned to Galilee. The first 3 ½ chapters of the Gospel of Luke take place in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the wilderness by the Jordan River. Now, “Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Holy Spirit.” He returned to where he had grown up after perhaps being gone for some time. The people ask, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” But now there is something different about him. We know from the first three chapters that he is the Son of God who will live by the Word of God. But the people of Nazareth do not seem to know that.
Jesus returns to Galilee and he becomes famous. He teaches in their synagogues and everyone praises him. He is no longer alone or without a following as he was in the wilderness, when the devil tempted him to jump off the pinnacle of the temple so he could be seen and known.
Then Jesus went to Nazareth, his hometown, and he went to the synagogue. He was perhaps asked to read, maybe even to speak if he had a message to share. He reads a scripture, but what he does is not like our Sunday Scripture readers. They read the words from a text already chosen for them. Jesus chooses his own text, and then he makes some changes to it. If you look up Isaiah 61:1,2 and compare it with what Jesus quotes in Luke 4:18,19 you will notice it is not the same. Isaiah 61 does not have the phrase “recovery of sight to the blind” or the phrase “to set the oppressed free.” But it does have “to proclaim the day of vengeance of our God,” which Jesus does not include in his reading.
Part of this is solved by reading Isaiah 61 from the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew text that was often read in synagogues in Jesus’ time. It includes the phrase “recovery of sight to the blind.” But Jesus leaves out the phrase about vengeance and he adds a phrase from Isaiah 58:6, “to set the oppressed free.” The Septuagint version of Isaiah 58:6 is quite pointed: “I have not chosen such a fast, says the Lord, but do thou loose every burden of iniquity, do thou untie the knots of hard bargains, set the bruised (oppressed) free and cancel every unjust account.” The key words are “loose,” “untie,” and “set free.”
What is Jesus doing here? He is actually preaching from scripture and not just reading the words in a passage. He is taking scripture to himself. He is allowing the Word of God to form him, to describe the life he will lead, to define his mission. This will be the script for his life, but not a script in a wooden way. Rather it is God’s Word that he meditates upon, he fits various pieces of it together, and he forms his life to it and also forms the Word to his life. This is not a matter of choosing verses that fit the desires of Jesus for a good life, but it is bringing God’s Word to the Holy Spirit active in his life, and it is coming before the Father in prayer with the scripture in his heart. The word forms him in mind and heart.
I heard a comment from a pastor in another community. He said a couple in his church told him they would be looking for a new church, one that better fit their lifestyle. In other words, sometimes we make choices about how we will live, and we develop a pattern that we commit ourselves to, and then we see if there is a church that fits our choices. In a deeper way, we might also be looking to see if the Word of God and the Holy Spirit might fit into our established life choices in some way. The alternative that Jesus puts before us is to be first formed by the Word of God and then see what kind of life fits a “word-formed” life, or expresses what Word and Spirit have formed in us. In that way our vocation becomes the Word of God and we express that in particular ways in our job, our home, our family, and our service.
Here is how Jesus did that. He began with a description found in Isaiah, molded by the Holy Spirit to his life and situation. He then found ways to express the vision in the particulars of being a teacher in Galilee. This is how Joel Green says it: “These chapters in Luke demonstrate how Jesus, empowered by the Spirit, understood the nature of his vocation and engaged in its performance by means of an itinerant ministry balancing proclamation and miraculous activity.”
So Jesus receives this call to proclaim Good News to the poor. How does he do that? First of all, who are the poor in this setting in Galilee? Joel Green says that this phrase “the poor” referred not just to the amount of money one had, but to a combination of factors including education, gender, family background, religious purity, and community status. The poor were all those who were in some way excluded or on the margins. The Good News Jesus has to proclaim comes to anyone who feels “outside,” “left out” or “alone.” Are you among the “poor” and in need of Good News?
What is the “Good News” that Jesus has to share? That will be discovered in the combination of his teaching and his actions, the way he heals and restores people. We are given insight into the meaning of the Good News with the words “freedom”, “recovery” and “set free” found in Isaiah 61. Often another word that is used here is “release.” The Good News is that Jesus is able to set people free. He releases or sets free by means of forgiveness, by overcoming the binding power of Satan, by bringing healing and wholeness to suffering people, and by releasing people from debt.
The final phrase in verse 19 is “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This refers to Jubilee, the Old Testament legislation that called for a year every 50 years when all slaves were to be set free, all debts cancelled, all land to be returned to the original family owners and the fields to sit fallow. This was to be God’s way of renewing the society of Israel. But, David Tiede writes, “This program of God’s reign became a hope rather than a practice.” It remained “a symbol to take place in the future when God’s dominion would be revealed to the whole world.” They never called for a year of Jubilee.
Jesus calls for Jubilee. He goes about restoring people by healing those who are blind and lame, cleansing lepers, giving sight to the blind and motion to the paralyzed. He forgives sin. He calls tax collectors and all manner of sinners to find their place in God’s Kingdom. He tells of a young son who wastes his father’s money in a far country. But in repentance he returns home, and is greeted by the love of the father, who not only restores him, but throws a party and kills the fatted calf for him. That’s Jubilee. When sinners repent and turn to the Savior, that’s Jubilee, and there is rejoicing in heaven.
All of what Jesus does in his ministry in Galilee leads to the cross and resurrection. The prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus. In his death, we who are poor because of sin, find release, forgiveness, new life. In his resurrection, the Jubilee begins. This is what God has done for us in Christ. He calls us to repent, have faith in Christ, and follow him.