Nazareth: synagogue

JesusIconNazarethHe 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…” (Luke 4:16-17)

The Gospel of Mark has a similar account but records it later in Jesus’ public ministry near the end of the ministry in Galilee (Mark 6:1-6a). Luke reports the account at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. In doing so, Luke highlights the initial admiration (Luke 4:22) and subsequent rejection of Jesus (Luke 4:28-29) and presents it as a foreshadowing of the whole future ministry of Jesus. Moreover, the rejection of Jesus in his own hometown hints at the greater rejection of him by Israel (Acts 13:46). Luke’s account seems to have at least two emphases: (a) the announcement of Jesus’ ministry as the fulfillment of God’s promises from the OT in general, but in Isaiah in particular; and (b) a statement about the context of Jesus’ ministry (cf. Luke 4:18-19). In each case, the prophet Isaiah serves as the fulfillment text.

Brief as it is, Luke’s introduction to the ministry in Galilee gives the reader an indication of the nature of Jesus’ work (teaching), one of its common settings (the synagogues), the source of its power (the Spirit), its result (praise), and its extent (to all).

In the Synagogue. The account of Jesus’ return to his hometown embodies the gospel story in miniature. Jesus is met initially with praise and acclaim (this week’s gospel), but this response sours through jealousy and suspicion until his own people are seeking his life (next week’s gospel). As an observant Jew, Jesus customarily worshiped in the synagogue. Culpepper [105] offers insight into 1st century synagogue worship:

“Jesus stood to read, as was customary. He would then sit while he taught (4:20; 5:3). Although we do not know exactly what transpired in the worship of a Jewish synagogue of that time, the following elements seem to have been present: the Shema, recitation of the Decalogue, the eighteen benedictions, the reading of Scripture, the Psalms, the exposition, and the blessing. Various people might have been asked to lead in reading and praying. Luke reports only part of the event. The Hazzan, or assistant, would have handed Jesus the scroll. By the first century there was a fixed triennial cycle of readings from the Torah, but arguments that the readings from the Prophets were also fixed by this date are inconclusive. Presumably Jesus was able to read the Scriptures in Hebrew and then interpret them in Aramaic, as would have been customary. (The practice of giving a translation and exposition of the text can be traced to Neh 8:8.) There was usually more than one reader, and each was expected to read at least three verses. The readings from the prophets were probably chosen because they had substantial or linguistic affinities with the reading from the Torah. Luke’s description of Jesus’ finding the place where the verses quoted from Isaiah occur probably means that Luke understood that Jesus himself chose this passage.”

No doubt word of Jesus’ ministry and wondrous deeds has filtered back to his hometown. It would not be a stretch to imagine that the Sabbath worship would be a place where the people might expect Jesus to teach, share insight, and perhaps even to perform a mighty deed. “If Jesus would do this for strangers, surely he would do even more for us!”

Notes

4:14 in the power of the Spirit: Jesus’ anointing / possession of the Spirit of God has been stated already in 3:22 (baptism) and 4:1 (temptation)
News of him spread
: a Lucan theme; see Luke 4:37; 5:15; 7:17.

4:15 was praised by all: Jesus was making a circuit of the local communities before coming to his own home town. The term doxazō (praise) is used of a positive response to Jesus’ work. The “all” will be in contrast to his townspeople’s rejection of him.

4:16 according to his custom: Jesus’ practice of regularly attending synagogue is carried on by the early Christians’ practice of meeting in the temple (Acts 2:46; 3:1; 5:12). Importantly Jesus carried on his parents ethos (2:42) and

Commentaries

  • 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

Scripture Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. © 1991, 1986, 1970 available at http://www.usccb.org/bible/index.cfm

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