This coming Sunday is the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time in which Jesus speaks in the synagogue in Nazareth after having read from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. It is important to note that this mission is specifically directed at the needs of people: poor, captive, blind, oppressed. Significantly, Jesus’ work will be good news to the poor. Mary’s prayer (1:52-52; the Magnificat) praises the Lord for lifting up the lowly and sending the rich away empty. Later, Jesus announces God’s blessing on the poor (6:20) and then refers to the fulfillment of the charge to bring good news to the poor in his response to John (7:22). The poor also figure more prominently in Jesus’ teachings in Luke than in any other Gospel (14:13, 21; 16:20, 22; 18:22; 21:3).
Culpepper [105-6] provides additional insights for Luke’s use of the Isaian text:
The term used here for “captives” (αἰχμαλώτοι aichmalōtoi) does not appear elsewhere in the NT, and elsewhere Luke uses the term “release” (ἄφεσις aphesis) only for forgiveness of sins, but various events later in Jesus’ ministry can be understood as illustrating the fulfillment of this aspect of his commission. The word for “release” recurs in the line from Isa 58:6, inserted here by Luke: release for the oppressed. Jesus released persons from various forms of bondage and oppression: economic (the poor), physical (the lame, the crippled), political (the condemned), and demonic. Forgiveness of sin, therefore, can also be seen as a form of release from bondage to iniquity (Acts 8:22–23).
The restoration of sight to the blind was closely associated with the prophetic vision of the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel (Isa 35:5; 42:6–7). When Jesus restores sight to the blind (as he does in Luke 7:21–22; 18:35), he is figuratively fulfilling God’s work of salvation as foreseen by the prophet Isaiah. Jesus is dramatically fulfilling the role of the one who would be a “light for the nations” (see 2:32; Acts 13:47). Like Jesus, his followers are to be light for others (Luke 8:16; 11:33).
The proclamation of the “year of the Lord’s favor” in Isaiah 61 is connected with the Jubilee year legislation in Leviticus 25. Following a series of seven sevens, the fiftieth year was to be a time when “you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants” (Lev 25:10). It has occasionally been suggested that Jesus was actually proclaiming the observance of the Jubilee year through his reading of Isaiah 61, but this is far from certain. More likely is the interpretation that Jesus related the figure of “the year of the Lord’s favor” to the kingdom of God (cf. Luke 4:43). Jesus’ ministry signaled that the time for the liberation of the impoverished and oppressed had come, and in that respect at least his work would fulfill the ideal and the social concern of the Jubilee year.
The importance of the reading of Isaiah in this scene can scarcely be exaggerated. For Luke it proclaimed the fulfillment of Scripture and the hopes of Israel through Jesus’ ministry as the Son of God. It stated the social concern that guided Jesus’ work and allowed the reader to understand all that Jesus did as the fulfillment of his anointing by the Spirit. What Jesus understood by these verses, however, differed sharply from what those gathered in the synagogue assumed they meant.
Luke will continue to develop how that will work out in the real world as Jesus encounters these people in real life: lepers, tax collectors, women. It is a definition of mission that called Israel, that called Jesus, and thereby calls his followers, to engage the world and its people and their needs as a way fulfill being a light to that world. In every age people encounter the good news – and people often encounter the good news through their real and current needs.
God’s story is always related to human need. For example, if a woman is dying of cancer, the gospel is God’s strong word of resurrection. If a person is permeated with guilt, the gospel is God’s assurance of forgiveness. If people experience extreme suffering, the gospel is the prayer: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.” For the starving, the gospel may be bread. For a homeless refugee, the gospel may be freedom in a new homeland. For others, the gospel may be freedom from political tyranny. The gospel is always related to human need. It is never truth in a vacuum, a theologically true statement which may or may not relate to one’s life. The gospel is God’s truth, God’s message, God’s action, God’s word to a particular person, to a particular need, to a particular historical situation. (Edward Markquart, Witness for Christ – found in Stoffregen)
As Spirit-filled as this gospel is, spiritual does not mean escaping the world.
Today. 20 Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. 21 He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
With the reading complete, Jesus takes the posture (sitting) of the teacher – as he was expected to do. All eyes are upon him, his reputation preceding, his choice of scripture provocative – the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. Then simply and powerfully Jesus tells them that this great promise of God given in Isaiah, this promise of the long awaited Messiah has been fulfilled.
It amounted to a declaration by Him that the words that He had read to them had finally come to fulfillment—in His own person. By this He really announced that He was the One anointed by God with the Spirit to proclaim the glad tidings to the poor. God had sent and empowered Him to fulfill all those signs promised through the prophet. And now Jesus stands among them to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Jesus is announcing the Messianic age—the period ushered in by His appearance, in which God will grant His salvation to His people.
And how do the people respond to this great news? …. check back next week.
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, an 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.
4:21 Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing: this sermon inaugurates the time of fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Luke presents the ministry of Jesus as fulfilling Old Testament hopes and expectations (Luke 7:22); for Luke, even Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection are done in fulfillment of the scriptures (Luke 24:25-27, 44-46; Acts 3:18).
today: Today is an important word for Luke. It occurs 12 times in Luke and only 9 times in the other three gospels combined. It occurs in such familiar passages as: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you.” “Today you will be with me in paradise.” And twice in the Zacchaeus story: “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay in your house today.” And, “Today, salvation has come to this house.” And in our text: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” For Luke today is a moment of radical change.
- Culpepper, R. Alan. “The Gospel of Luke.” New Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. 9. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994–2004) 102–109
- Geldenhuys, Norval. Commentary on the Gospel of Luke: The English Text with Introduction, Exposition and Notes (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1952) 164-170
- Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke in The New International Commentary on the New Testament.. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997) 204-219
- Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of the Sacra Pagina series, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegville, MN: 1991)
- Jerome Kodell, “Luke” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Dianne Bergant and Robert J. Karris, (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989). 936 – 980.
- Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at crossmarks.com
Dictionaries – Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995)
Scripture: Quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC