A reflection on Luke 4:14-21 for the Third Sunday After Epiphany, January 23, 2022.
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’
Luke 4:14-21 (NRSVA)
Our reading begins with a broad-sweeping summary passage of the nature of Jesus’ ministry immediately following his baptism and temptation. In the same way Luke highlighted the Spirit’s activity in these two preceding events, our author points once more to the activity of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ ministry, from first to last, is initiated by the very presence of God.
We are, of course, still at the beginning of Jesus mission. Luke has, so far, made no specific reports of Jesus-initiated miracles.
This is not to say that extraordinary events have not surrounded Jesus. From his birth three decades ago Jesus has been one to watch. He is the subject of angels, prophecies, and the opening of heaven. It amounts to a rising reputation (See Luke 4:23).
And so it is not so surprising that upon his return to Galilee Jesus’ presence is noticed. He is attracting attention, gaining an audience, finding his voice. Jesus is becoming a topic.
And so, upon visiting his childhood synagogue, Jesus is invited to stand and read. At the initiative of others he is handed the scroll of the legendary prophet Isaiah .
Jesus takes control and selects the passage. It is Jesus who chooses its beginning and end, he who offers this brief self-reflective commentary. Jesus is going public on the nature of the ministry he intends to undertake.
An exciting and revealing moment.
Isaiah’s passage opens with the, now familiar, mention of the Holy Spirit. It speaks of anointing and ‘good news’ towards a specific people – the ‘poor’, ‘captives’, ‘blind’, and ‘oppressed’.
And it will be to them a time of ‘the Lord’s favour’ – a phrase loudly echoing the ancient call to Jubilee. This God-initiated fiftieth year of forgiveness, cancelled debt, and freedom was a time to start again.
Jesus’ ministry will be characterised by such acts. It will remind the poor and outcast of a freedom they were not capable of winning themselves – like when the blind revert back to lost days filled with light, or, the imprisoned rediscover days of big skies, sunlight, and distant horizons.
This is be a time of hope beyond hope.
Many in Jesus’ time would have celebrated the fulfilment of Isaiah’s vision. After all – beyond Jesus reading – it speaks of a ‘day of vengence’ against the enemy (Isaiah 61:2). With Roman soldiers patrolling their streets such words could gain quite a hearing – and a following.
But Jesus has not read this bit. Instead he has chosen to roll the scroll mid-sentence (See Isaiah 61:2 NRSV).
A time will come for the removal of Israel’s enemies. But it is not now.
And it will not look anything like they imagine. In fact, the ministry of Jesus will offer this same forgiveness and freedom to all – even to enemies and foreigners. Perhaps this is why Jesus goes on to initiate his controversial conversation about ‘Zerephath in Sidon’ (4:26) and ‘Naaman the Syrian’ (4:27). Such gentile-talk will not contribute constructively to his rising fame.
This mission, however, will not be remembered for its popularity. Rather, Jesus’ time on this earth will be characterised by a grace that extends beyond any man-made borders. The love of God is greater in power and scope than the people of Nazareth could ever imagine.
Of course, we who read two thousand years later do well to hold our boast: The grace of Jesus will extend beyond the wildest dreams of us all.
Are you open to grace being bigger than you imagine at this point in time?