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Luke 4:14-30 – Jesus’ Sermon at Nazareth

Summary

In his hometown synagogue Jesus reads from the book of Isaiah and announces that his ministry will fulfill a vision of liberation described by the prophet. When he explains that the people of Nazareth will not be the primary beneficiaries of his work, some of them try to kill him.

Analysis

This is the first extensively narrated act of Jesus' public ministry in Luke's Gospel. It is a pivotal scene that serves as a programmatic passage for all of Luke-Acts. Jesus' words give an encapsulated description of the work that he will do, defining him as one empowered by the Spirit of the Lord. The hostile response of the crowd foreshadows the rejection that he will face.

Reading Scripture aloud in a synagogue service was a common practice, and a person did not necessarily need to hold a special office to offer leadership in worship and instruction (compare Acts 13:13-15). The biblical text cited in Luke 4:17-19 is not a single passage from Isaiah but a combination of Isaiah 61:1-2a and part of Isaiah 58:6. These two passages are probably combined here in Luke because in the Greek translation of the Old Testament the same word is found in both places. This word is aphesis, which appears when Jesus says he is "to proclaim release to the captives" and also "to let the oppressed go free." Combining the two passages from Isaiah emphasizes this theme of "release" that characterizes Jesus' ministry. The same word appears elsewhere in Luke to describe people's release (usually translated "forgiveness") from sins. The word also appears frequently in Leviticus 25:8-55, which discusses the jubilee year, a "year of release" meant to preserve justice in Israel through the fair and regular distribution of wealth and personal freedoms. Jesus' sermon, therefore, implies that his ministry is one that liberates people from social and economic oppression, just as other pronouncements indicate that Jesus also frees people from sin's oppression.

Later, in 4:24-29, Jesus provokes his audience by insisting that prophets suffer rejection in their homelands. Both Elijah and Elisha experienced this, and their ministries benefited unlikely outsiders such as the widow from Zarephath (1 Kings 17) and Naaman the Syrian (2 Kings 5:1-19). The people of Nazareth, then, should expect no special benefits from Jesus because he is from their town. His ministry will benefit outsiders, the scorned, and the powerless. This enrages his audience, and their violence confirms Jesus' statement in 4:24. Luke's description of Jesus' escape at the end of the passage is vague, leaving the reader to wonder if he manages to slip away or if he is saved by miraculous means.

Luke 4:14-30

The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry

14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth

16 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, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 ‘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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
20And 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. 21Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ 22All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ 23He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” 24And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. 25But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. 27There were also many lepers* in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ 28When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. 29They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. 30But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

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10 February 2011

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