This coming Sunday is the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time. A key phrase in this Gospel is “In the power of the Spirit.” As noted, this passage begins with a reference to Jesus being “in the power of the Spirit.” While there are no doubt some implicit Trinitarian ideas here, the OT should serve as the means of understanding the direction of Luke’s narrative. The OT metaphors of wind (Heb: ruach – breath, wind, spirit), smoke, and cloud, as well as fire, were ways of talking about the active presence of God in the world. Even though the single Hebrew term is translated in various ways even when used of God, this idea became a way to talk about God in terms of his immediate activity in the world. The idea behind the Hebrew term ruach expressed the immanence of God in the world and encompassed his willingness and power to act in human history. This idea carried over into most of the NT since the equivalent term in Greek (pneuma) carries the same varied meaning. As well, this “power of the Spirit” also points to a commissioning of prophets and enabling leaders to carry out their mission.
The reference to Spirit, then, is a way to express the active presence of God in the world, here specifically empowering Jesus for his task in the world. Just as the presence of God enabled the OT prophets to communicate a message, and as it empowered Israel’s leaders to carry out their responsibilities, so the active and immanent presence of God is with Jesus enabling him to carry out his task. It also stresses Jesus’ authority to proclaim whatever message he is to bring and whatever mission he will undertake, both defined here by the following Old Testament quotation (vv. 18-19). Luke will apply that same metaphor with the same meaning to the early church as it experiences the infilling of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Note the repetition of words in this short section: “he has sent” [apostello], to proclaim [kerysso] and release [or forgiveness; aphesis]. These two words (apostello and kerysso) are used of the disciples in Luke 9:2. The 70 disciples are sent in 10:13. Luke ends his gospel with Jesus telling the disciples “that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached [kerusso] in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (24:47). The Acts of the Apostles relates the disciples being sent out from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, proclaiming the gospel. This is the teaching in the synagogue and sets the mission content and context for Jesus and his disciples.
4:18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me: The context strongly suggests Jesus is referring to his baptism (3:21-38) As this incident develops, Jesus is portrayed as a prophet whose ministry is compared to that of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Prophetic anointings are known in first-century Palestinian Judaism from the Qumran literature that speaks of prophets as God’s anointed ones.
to bring glad tidings to the poor: more than any other gospel writer Luke is concerned with Jesus’ attitude toward the economically and socially poor (see Luke 6:20, 24; 12:16-21; 14:12-14; 16:19-26; 19:8). At times, the poor in Luke’s gospel are associated with the downtrodden, the oppressed and afflicted, the forgotten and the neglected (Luke 4:18; 6:20-22; 7:22; 14:12-14), and it is they who accept Jesus’ message of salvation.
4:19 liberty to captives…oppressed go free: aphesis, Luke uses this word five times. Three of those it part of the phrase “forgiveness of sins” (1:77; 3:3; 24:47). The other two times are in the above quote. The quote suggests that for Luke, forgiveness is more than just saying “sins are forgiven”. It includes releasing or freeing people from whatever has captured them, or has oppressed them.
a year (eniautos) acceptable to the Lord: Is the “acceptable year of the Lord” a reference to the Jubilee Year in Leviticus 25? It is not clear that Luke intends this connection. This word for “year” (eniautos) occurs frequently in the LXX of Leviticus, but another Greek word for “year” (etos) occurs even more often in chapter 25. While these two Greek words can mean a calendar year, which they likely mean in Lv 25; it is perhaps not the intended meaning in this quote from Isaiah. In fact and in history Jesus did not limit his ministry and the “acceptable year” to a 12 month period. The word eniautos can refer to a more general period of time, a indefinite period of time. With this definition it might be translated “age” (although probably a shorter period than aion), “era,” or “time.” Jesus is ushering a new era that has a limited time-span — not as long as aion = “age,” “eternity”. This “era” may be the short period of time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, but more likely, it is the period of time that begins with Jesus’ ministry and extends until Jesus’ return. There is a point when this “acceptable era” is replaced by something else.
- Culpepper, R. Alan. “The Gospel of Luke.” New Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. 9. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994–2004) 102–109
- Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at crossmarks.com
Scripture: Quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC.