Prophetic choices

JesusIconNazarethThe gospel this week is the second half of Jesus’ presence in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth. Do you remember last week when Jesus is reading from the prophet Isaiah and says: ““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.”

I would suggest to you that the people are pretty pumped up. After all, they have already heard about all the miracles and amazing things Jesus has already done. Now they have heard his gracious words! I suspect this might be typical of the inner dialogue of their collective minds: “Can you imagine? Our hometown boy has done good, he is blessed – and if he has done all that for other folks, can you imagine what great things, better things, he has in stored for us? Right? I mean, God has sent us a miracle worker and a prophet!” I am sure if this were more modern times there would be high-fives and fist-pumps. Continue reading

Nazareth: final thought

JesusIconNazarethA Final Thought – from Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke”

“This scene is more significant than its brevity might suggest. Its position at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, its emphasis on the Spirit and Scripture, and its depiction of themes that will dominate the rest of the Gospel all point to its paradigmatic character. Readers of the Gospel now understand that all Jesus does in the coming chapters occurs by the power of the Spirit. Jesus teaches, preaches, heals, and casts out demons. He moves among the poor, the outcast, the sick, and the blind. His actions fulfill the Scriptures, especially the Prophets, but even those who awaited the fulfillment of the Scriptures took offense at Jesus and eventually put him to death. This scene suggests that the basis for their hostility toward Jesus was a difference in the way they read the Scriptures. The people of Jesus’ hometown read the Scriptures as promises of God’s exclusive covenant with them, a covenant that involved promises of deliverance from their oppressors. Jesus came announcing deliverance, but it was not a national deliverance but God’s promise of liberation for all the poor and oppressed regardless of nationality, gender, or race. When the radical inclusiveness of Jesus’ announcement became clear to those gathered in the synagogue in Nazareth, their commitment to their own community boundaries took precedence over their joy that God had sent a prophet among them. In the end, because they were not open to the prospect of others’ sharing in the bounty of God’s deliverance, they themselves were unable to receive it.”

“Not only is this scene paradigmatic of Jesus’ life and ministry, but it is also a reminder that God’s grace is never subject to the limitations and boundaries of any nation, church, group, or race. Those who would exclude others thereby exclude themselves. Human beings may be instruments of God’s grace for others, but we are never free to set limits on who may receive that grace. Throughout history, the gospel has always been more radically inclusive than any group, denomination, or church, so we continually struggle for a breadth of love and acceptance that more nearly approximates the breadth of God’s love. The paradox of the gospel, therefore, is that the unlimited grace that it offers so scandalizes us that we are unable to receive it. Jesus could not do more for his hometown because they were not open to him. How much more might God be able to do with us if we were ready to transcend the boundaries of community and limits of love that we ourselves have erected?” [Culpepper, 108-9]

Sources:

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
  • Geldenhuys, Norval. Commentary on the Gospel of Luke: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition and Notes. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1952. 164-170
  • Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997. Print. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. 204-219
  • Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of the Sacra Pagina series, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegville, MN: 1991)
  • Jerome Kodell, “Luke” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Dianne Bergant and Robert J. Karris, (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989). 936 – 980.
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at crossmarks.com

Dictionaries

  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)

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

Nazareth: prophet’s fate

JesusIconNazarethPast as Prologue. 25 Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. 26 It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. 27 Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

The people of Nazareth had heard Jesus’ declaration of the fulfillment of God’s promises as a guarantee of God’s blessing on them, but Jesus affirmed a fulfillment that was not limited to Israel only—God would bless all the poor, all the captives. Neither was the fulfillment Jesus announced radically different from the work of the prophets. Israel’s Scriptures themselves bear witness to God’s blessing on Gentiles as well as Jews. Reminders of the mighty works of Elijah and Elisha follow naturally after the proverb about the prophet and the prophet’s home. Continue reading

Nazareth: hometown prophets

JesusIconNazarethJesus in his native place. There are another group of scholars who connect the people’s question in v.22 with Jesus’ words in v.23 and following. The presumption (and not a bad one) is that Jesus is aware of their expectations: “If Jesus has done these great things in other places, surely he will do even greater things here! He is a home boy and charity and good works begin at home, right?”

In the culture of Jesus’ native place, home and family carry obligations, especially that of giving preference to one’s own family and community. Jesus’ words gives voice to their expectations: 23 He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” Continue reading

Nazareth: Joseph’s son?

JesusIconNazarethToday. 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.” With the reading complete, Jesus takes the posture (sitting) of the teacher – as he was expected to do. All eyes are upon him, his reputation preceding, his choice of scripture provocative – the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. Then simply and powerfully Jesus tells them that this great promise of God given in Isaiah, this promise of the long-awaited Messiah has been fulfilled. Continue reading

Nazareth: the people

JesusIconNazarethContext. One thing that is evident when you look at this Gospel reading (Luke 4:21-30) is that the narrative really begins at v.14. As mentioned last week, it is as though the story was cut in half (last week vv.14-21) and we never got to know the reaction of the people in the synagogue. Fortunately, the story continues as Luke 4:21-30 is the Gospel reading for this Sunday (4th Ordinary, C). 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)

Continue reading

Nazareth: today

JesusIconNazarethThe Poor, Captive, Blind and Oppressed. It is important to note that this mission is specifically directed at the needs of people: poor, captive, blind, oppressed. Significantly, Jesus’ work will be good news to the poor. Mary’s prayer (1:52-52; the Magnificat) praises the Lord for lifting up the lowly and sending the rich away empty. Later, Jesus announces God’s blessing on the poor (6:20) and then refers to the fulfillment of the charge to bring good news to the poor in his response to John (7:22). The poor also figure more prominently in Jesus’ teachings in Luke than in any other Gospel (14:13, 21; 16:20, 22; 18:22; 21:3). Continue reading

Nazareth: spirit

JesusIconNazarethAs noted, this passage begins with a reference to Jesus being “in the power of the Spirit.” While there are no doubt some implicit Trinitarian ideas here, the OT should serve as the means of understanding the direction of Luke’s narrative. The OT metaphors of wind (Heb: ruach – breath, wind, spirit), smoke, and cloud, as well as fire, were ways of talking about the active presence of God in the world. Even though the single Hebrew term is translated in various ways even when used of God, this idea became a way to talk about God in terms of his immediate activity in the world. The idea behind the Hebrew term ruach expressed the immanence of God in the world and encompassed his willingness and power to act in human history. This idea carried over into most of the NT since the equivalent term in Greek (pneuma) carries the same varied meaning. As well, this “power of the Spirit” also points to a commissioning of prophets and enabling of leaders to carry out their mission. Continue reading

Nazareth: first words

JesusIconNazarethHow appropriate that the first record of public ministry is the very living Word made flesh sharing the Word of God. Luke records these first spoken words of Jesus’ ministry:

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.” Continue reading

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). Continue reading