Commentary: Luke 4:14-21
The first Sunday after Epiphany told the story of Jesus being baptized and claimed as the Son of God. The second Sunday after Epiphany offered the story of Jesus turning water into wine, a sign that he was the Son of God. As we exegete this text it will be helpful to consider how this text follows these two Son of God texts.
Function of the Text
This pericope has a twofold function. First, it functions to offer a preview of what is to come. (Next Sunday's lesson will also do so in a broader way.) Jesus claims that preaching good news, releasing captives, giving the blind their sight, setting free the oppressed and proclaiming the year of the Lord have been fulfilled in the hearing of the scripture lesson of the day. Both the hearers who were present and the readers of the text will look for these things to happen.
Second, this text functions to set the environment and climate of Jesus' ministry. The place is Galilee. Worship is central to this ministry. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Hebrew prophecies. Jesus ministers "in the power of the Spirit."
It can also be noted that after better than four chapters preparing for it, this text actually records the beginning of Jesus' ministry.
Structure and Context
Schweizer1 notes the structure of vv. 16-22 as the following: And he stood up, and there was given to him..., and he opened...[the lesson from Isaiah] he rolled up..., gave it...and sat down...
This symmetrical structure suggests that everything centers on Jesus and the words of Scripture. The prophecy of Isaiah is bracketed by Jesus' movement within the worshipservice. Jesus' rising to read emphasizes that Jesus will rise as the fulfillment of this prophecy.
Furthermore, this structure, along with the setting of worship, reminds us that everything that Jesus does is within the bosom of Judaism.2 He observes the Sabbath, he upholds the scriptures, he not only attends the synagogue, but regularly participates in the services. Luke keeps us mindful that Jesus operates according to the life of a faithful Jew.
A group from Claremont, Cape Town, offers another viewpoint for the context of this scripture lesson. When one person wondered what type of people were in this setting, one person said it was a "typical religious congregation...upholders of the status quo...like the local authority officials we are dealing with."3 Also, there "were Nazareth people, so they were shepherds and workers, and they knew Jesus from long ago...and there were visitors, too, probably, because it says Jesus was well known and popular in Galilee." This context points to the significance of the text below.
Also, the Jews were under Roman rule during the life of Jesus. Luke's audience was likely to be under some level of persecution. Both groups would probably have been looking to Jesus to not only give them spiritual liberation, but also to lead a revolution against the powers that be.
Significance of the Text
This text proclaims that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies, the one for whom we have been waiting. After making several allusions to Isaiah in the first three chapters, Luke is again saying that Jesus is the one. (Compare Lk 2:30 with Is 52:10; Lk 3:46 with Is 40:3-5; and, Lk 3:22 with Is 42:1.) Before continuing to tell Theophilus the orderly account of what happened, Luke is emphatic about prophetic fulfillment.
This scripture also has significance for us moderns. As Jesus dealt with church officials, so we (and members of our congregations) have to deal with officials. As Jesus ministered in ordinary church congregations, so we find ourselves in such ordinary places. Jesus preached among people who supported the status quo. Preachers in the 1990s preach among similar folk. Possibly most important, Jesus spoke to oppressed people who wanted change and were looking for leadership. Not all of us preach to oppressed people, but we are fully cognizant that oppression runs rampant, and leadership is desperately needed to bring about the acceptable day of the Lord.
Finally, how does this text follow on the heals of the previous two lessons? Jesus has been claimed as the Son by God at his baptism. That event named him. John the evangelist noted that as the Son of God, Jesus performed signs and wonders. But, there is more to being the Son of God than making a wine steward happy. The Son of God came not for the mighty, but for the oppressed, the captive, the blind and the poor. As the story of Jesus' life unfolds dur ing the coming weeks of ordinary time, let us be mindful of the work of the Son of God.
1. Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Luke, trans. David E. Green (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1984), p. 85. 2. Fred B. Craddock, Luke, Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), p. 61. 3. "A South African Example: Jesus' Teaching at Nazareth--Luke 4:14-30," Voices from the Margin: Interpreting the Bible in the Third World, ed. R.S. Sugirtharajah (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), p. 424.
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