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