Nazareth: context

JesusIconNazareth1:1 Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, 3 I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.

4:14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region. 15 He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all. 16 He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read 17 and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” 20 Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. 21 He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21)

Here at the beginning of Ordinary Time in our reading of the gospels, we begin with opening verses of the Gospel according to Luke. It’s inclusion with the main body of the Sunday Gospel, is not for biblical scholarship or context, but it serves to provide the certainty of the story that follows. While many scholars note that it flawlessly follows the conventional form of prologues, it is surprising how little we are actually told. It does not mention Jesus by name or title, gives no indication of the subject matter of the writing, does not name its sources, nor describe the scope of the writing. That being said, Luke’s concerns are more than historical (orderly sequence). It promises to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us that has been passed from the eyewitnesses from the beginning and the ministers of the word that handed the accounts onto Luke’s generation (ca. 85 CE).

From that beginning we have followed Luke’s orderly sequence through the annunciations of Jesus and John the Baptist, their births, the ministry of John, the baptism of Jesus, and his subsequent temptation in the desert. Our gospel passage then returns to Luke 4 – yet there are echoes of all that has gone before. The passage of Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth is Luke’s introduction to Jesus’ public ministry – notably in the power of the Spirit (v.14). Just as Jesus’ birth had been characterized by the movement of the Spirit (1:35), his baptism marked when the holy Spirit descended upon him (3:22), and he was lead by the Spirit into the desert (4:1), so too Jesus returns to Galilee in the power of the Spirit.

One thing that is evident when you look at this Gospel reading (4:14-21) is that the narrative really continues on to v.30. It is as though the story has been cut in half without knowing the reaction of the people in the synagogue. As it turns out Luke 4:22-30 comprise the Gospel reading for the following Sunday (4th Ordinary, C). Still, many Lucan scholars hold that the two halves together are key and make clear the four major points in Luke’s account:

  • the announcement of Jesus ministry as the fulfillment of God’s salvation-time,
  • a statement about the content of Jesus’ ministry based on the quotation from Isaiah,
  • the foreshadowing of Jesus’ final suffering and rejection,
  • the foreshadowing of the movement of the gospel from Jew to Gentile. (found in Stoffregen)

Luke also uses geographical notices and reports of comings and goings to open and close sections of the narrative. Here we are witnessing the movement from the desert and the general surrounds of Galilee with his arrival in Nazareth and the events of this gospel. Very quickly Luke moves the scene to Capernaum (4:31-41) and we will see a pattern for Jesus’ ministry:

  • Jesus teaches (more often than preaches),
  • In the synagogues (indicating that his first ministry is to the Jewish people)
  • Reports about him spread because of his teaching, and
  • He is glorified by all (and in later parts of Luke, also because of his miracles) – the only appropriate human response to God’s disclosure of Jesus as the Savior

What Jesus does in Nazareth (4:16–30) and Capernaum (4:31–41) is typical of his work. “The rest of Luke 4 is carefully structured. Between the summary of Jesus’ return to Galilee in 4:14–15 and the summary of his departure to Judea in 4:44, Luke summarizes Jesus’ work in two villages: Nazareth (4:16–30) and Capernaum (4:31–41). In Nazareth, Jesus teaches in the synagogue; in Capernaum, while he is teaching, he casts out an unclean spirit and then heals Peter’s mother-in-law and various others. Together, these scenes portray the power of the Spirit in both word and deed, in Jesus’ teaching and in his healing. What he proclaimed in Nazareth, he began to do immediately thereafter in Capernaum.” [Culepper, 103]

Sources:

  • Culpepper, R. Alan. “The Gospel of Luke.” New Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. 9. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994–2004) 102–109.
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at crossmarks.com
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