Lesson Focus As Jesus begins his earthly mission, he calls us to join him in proclaiming his Good News to those whom we might think shouldn’t receive it.
Lesson Outcomes Through this lesson, students should:
Understand that Jesus is the fulfillment of Israel’s Old Testament hope for a Messiah.
Understand that Jesus’ mission is not just directed to those we might consider “in.”
Discuss ways to extend God’s grace and Good News to those whom we consider outsiders.
Catching Up on the Story After Luke’s account of Jesus’ baptism, we are given a genealogy that traces Jesus’ line back to Adam. We are told that Jesus is about 30 years old when he begins his public ministry. After his baptism, Jesus does not jump right into his ministry but first heads out into the wilderness, where he spends the next 40 days fasting. During those 40 days, he is tempted by the devil. Jesus passes each test and, by doing so, declares what type of Messiah he will be. All of the devil’s temptations are not toward things that we would name as pernicious evil but were offered as ways Jesus might misuse his Godly power to attain glory for himself. These temptations are temptations to power. Jesus, by resisting these temptations, will be a Messiah whose reign is not characterized by power, at least not as the world knows it, but by sacrifice and dependence on God.
Rock Star Status: Luke 6:14-15 As we begin to look at this next story in Luke’s Gospel, you will notice that Jesus moves from being praised by everyone to having to escape a homicidal mob in the span of just sixteen verses. Jesus, having passed his wilderness temptations, now moves back toward his home region of Galilee. So that we will not forget who this Jesus is and how he is empowered in his ministry, Luke tells us that Jesus is filled with the power of the Spirit. By noting that Jesus is filled with the power of the Spirit, Luke wants to stress for us that Jesus has, and will throughout the narrative, aligned himself entirely with the will of the Father.
As Jesus returns, he begins to teach in the synagogues in Galilee. The synagogue was the weekly gathering place of the Jews during this time. They would have gathered to read scripture together, hear an exposition of those scriptures, and engage in discussion about faithful living. Jesus’ Spirit-filled teaching spread throughout the surrounding country. Jesus is approaching rock star status.
Home, Sweet Home: Luke 4:16-22 As Jesus’ fame began to increase, it was inevitable that he would once again return to his hometown of Nazareth. It appears that while Jesus was growing up in Nazareth, he would attend the meeting at the synagogue each Sabbath. Upon his return home, Jesus resumes his usual custom and attends the meeting at the synagogue. Luke’s presentation of Jesus here gives us the impression that Jesus not only regularly attended the synagogue but that he was also no stranger to being one who read scripture and expounded upon it (Green, 209). At the outset, it appears to be just another regular Sabbath with Jesus at the synagogue. Luke also makes a case for Jesus being utterly orthodox in his Jewish faith.
There is little evidence of the normal order of service for a synagogue gathering at this time. Some believe that the gathering would have begun with private prayer on entry to the building by the worshippers. Then, there was a public confession of the Jewish faith in the Shema (Dt. 6:4–9; 11:13–21). This would have been followed by prayers, including the Tephillah and the Shemoneh Esreh. The center of the worship gathering would have been the reading of the Scriptures. First, a passage from the Pentateuch was read. This would have followed some prescribed order and would have been done by several members of the congregation in turn. An Aramaic paraphrase would have been offered, too, because Aramaic (a close linguistic relative of Hebrew) was the common language. A reading from the prophets would have followed this. Additionally, there would be more prayer and some teaching by a Rabbi if one was present (Marshall, 181).
While the text may indicate that Jesus was randomly handed the scroll that contained the writings of the prophet Isaiah, it is more likely that Jesus requested to read from that particular book. So, Jesus stands up, is handed the scroll he wished to read from, and begins to read.
The text that Jesus read is predominately from Isaiah 61:1-2, with a little of Isaiah 58:6 mixed in. The structure of the quotation is important as it indicates where the emphasis ought to lie. Our English translations fail to adequately represent this due to the difficulties with translating poetry from one language to another. Here’s what it should look like:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, For he has anointed me, To preach good news to the poor he has sent me; To proclaim for the captives release, And to the blind sight; To send forth the oppressed in release; To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Green’s translation, Green, 210)
Three things are emphasized when we look at the structure of the quotation in a way that more closely resembles the original. First, the personal pronoun “me” resides at the end of the first three lines and is emphasized. Jesus is placing himself within this text, declaring that he is the one on whom God’s Spirit rests, the one whom God has sent to be Messiah.
The second thing is the series of infinitives (to) highlighting Jesus’ mission. There is a primary infinitive clause, “To preach good news to the poor he has sent me.” This is Jesus’ primary mission, to bring good news, literally, the gospel. He brings it specifically to the “poor.” Here, poor does not just mean economic destitution. In Jesus’ day and culture, a person’s status within the community rested on several different elements.
These elements included education, gender, family heritage, religious purity, vocation, and economics. A significant deficiency in any one of these categories might have led a person to be considered on the margins of society. While “the poor” certainly carries economic connotations, it is much broader than that. Especially for Luke, the poor denoted anyone considered low status for any reason. Jesus’s primary mission to the poor is wide and varied and aims to heal people in a holistic manner (Green, 211).
The three following infinitives, “To proclaim for the captives release….” “To Send forth the oppressed in release….” “To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor …” are all in support of Jesus’ central mission of proclaiming the good news. Here the third structural emphasis is noted: the idea of release. The idea of “release” in Luke’s Gospel has two standard meanings.
The first meaning deals with the release from sin or forgiveness of sin. The result is that Jesus is often portrayed as the one who brings forgiveness of sins. In the Jewish mind, forgiveness and release from sin meant more than the person who had transgressed the law was now right with God. It meant that the person could now rejoin the community (Green 112). Sometimes we fail to think of sin this way, but sin often cuts us off from full inclusion in the community. Crucial for understanding forgiveness is the welcoming back into the community that comes with it. By proclaiming that he will bring forgiveness of sins, Jesus is claiming his status as God.
The second meaning has to do with the release from debts. This ties in with the statement Jesus makes in verse 19. Part of Jesus’ mission is to proclaim the “year of the Lord’s favor.” In other words, the year of Jubilee. As outlined in Leviticus 25, Jubilee was the year when all debts were to be forgiven. Ancestral lands lost due to economic hardships were to be returned to their rightful family owners. The year of Jubilee was to be a giant economic and social reset to ensure that the poor, in all the senses of that word, did not remain poor forever. Justice and righteousness would prevail.
One other note needs to be made regarding Jesus’ statement. First, “blind” here has a genuine physical meaning and a spiritual sense. Not only will Jesus heal the bind, but he will also help those who cannot see spiritually. Both those who are spiritually blind and those who are physically blind, if they are willing, will regain their sight.
After Jesus reads the scroll, he rolls it up and hands it back to the attendant. Everyone is looking at him as he says, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus, by quoting the passages, declares himself to be the one who is bringing the year of Jubilee. The kingdom of God is now being brought to earth in the person and work of Jesus. The age of salvation has begun for everyone, even those who are lowly.
This first scene ends with Jesus sitting down as he enjoys the congregation’s praise. The people of his hometown are amazed at his teaching and power. They have known this man for a long time, and they knew his father, Joseph. They are surprised that one of their own could teach with such authority.
Not So Home, Sweet Home: Luke 4:22-30 The honeymoon does not last very long. While the congregation marvels at Jesus’ words, he begins to speak again. There is a sense here that the congregation expects that this new age of salvation that Jesus has just inaugurated in their hearing will happen first and foremost for them. Jesus, as the passage unfolds, will make it clear that his mission and message are meant in a non-exclusive way.
The proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” was a well-known maxim in the ancient world. It was often used in an argument to insist that a person must help one’s relatives with favors first and foremost. Additionally, it might have meant that a person should not help other non-relatives without first giving aid or benefit to their family (Green 216-17). Jesus’ hometown wants what Jesus has to offer first and foremost. They have heard what he has done and now have experienced his teaching, and they want it for themselves first.
Jesus goes on to provide examples from Israel’s history. Prophets were not very popular in their hometowns, which seems to be the case with Jesus. Jesus then gives the example of Elijah and the widow from Sidon and Elisha and Naaman the Syrian. Many in those days needed help, but God’s grace and providence extended beyond Israel’s borders to those whom Israel would have considered unclean. By making these examples, Jesus overtly demonstrates that his mission and message are not just for Israel but also for those whom Israel would deem unclean and unworthy.
That all people will benefit from God’s gracious salvation is not a new thought for Israel. Indeed, the root promise that God made to Abraham was that through him, all nations would be blessed. Somewhere along the line, Israel began to see themselves as sole beneficiaries of God’s good grace. Jesus, on this day in the synagogue, declares that this is not so.
This angers those in the synagogue, and they riot. Jesus is forcibly taken to the edge of town, where they intend to throw him off a cliff. Miraculously, Jesus makes his way through the crowd and escapes any danger.
So What…? The current state of our society practically begs us to make distinctions between who’s in and who’s out. We are split along so many lines. You are either a Republican or a Democrat. You are either a heterosexual or a homosexual. You are either American or an immigrant from some foreign land. You are either Black or White. In Jesus’ day, it was Jews and everyone else. When we create these categories, the tendency is to say that the other, the one who does not belong in my designated category, is a threat.
As a threat, they are to be feared or, at the very least, mistrusted. The good things we have should not be shared with them. However, along comes Jesus and inaugurates a brand-new era, an era of salvation for all. He says, “I’ve come, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to bring good news to all of those who find themselves on the outside. If you’re poor, I’ve come to help you live. If you’re in bondage to anything, I’ve come to free you. It’s the year of the Lord’s favor! Grace for all!” But sometimes, you and I want this grace to be just for us. We’re Christian, broken people at that, but Christian all the same. We want Jesus for ourselves, or at least for those who might act and think and look like us. Then, sometimes, when we are confronted by those who speak in Jesus’ name who want to push us to consider others as eligible recipients of God’s grace, we grab our pitchforks and run them out of town. Running someone out of town these days isn’t usually literal. The kind of rage (verse 28) that Jesus experienced at the hands of those good folks of the synagogue (church!) is multiplied by Christians over Facebook, Twitter, and the blogosphere.
While this passage exposes our love for division and our greediness for God’s good gifts, we are not doomed to act like those at the synagogue that day. As co-laborers, Jesus calls us to engage in his mission and message with him. As happens in Luke’s sequel, Acts, God sends his Holy Spirit and anoints Jesus’ followers so that they might bring good news to all the poor, that they might bring release to captives and recovery of spiritual and physical sight. The Spirit does not stop working with the final period of the book of Acts. The Spirit, we hope anyway, rests now on us. May we be a church that embraces this new age of salvation and grace for all, even for those whom we fear.
Specific Discussion Questions: Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.
Why do you think Jesus was gaining in popularity at the beginning of his ministry (verse 14)? What kinds of things do you think he was doing?
Luke describes that it was Jesus’ custom to go to the synagogue. Why do you think Luke mentions this? Why is it important?
Reread verses 18 and 19. Count how many times the personal pronoun “me” occurs. Why would Jesus pick a passage where “me” appears so often?
Identify all of the things that the passage says about what the one who is anointed is sent to do. What are those things? What do those things mean, and does Jesus do them?
In verse 21, Jesus declares that this passage has been fulfilled in their hearing. What does this mean? What is Jesus saying about himself and his mission?
Everyone reacts positively to this first part of the passage. Why are they ready to throw Jesus off a cliff by the end of the passage?
Do you think those gathered at the synagogue that day wanted Jesus to do all the great things he promised to do for them and them alone? If so, what makes you think that? If not, why?
As Christians, do you think we ever want to hog Jesus and his good gifts for ourselves? Why or why not?
What are some ways we might act like the crowd in this passage when we are confronted with words similar to Jesus’ in this passage?
Works Cited Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke, New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 1997).
I. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Exeter: Paternoster Press, 1978).