Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jesus is teaching in the temple. Are we listening?

Some thoughts about our Gospel for the 3rd Sunday After the Epiphany, Ordinary Time

Luke 4:14-21

14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

The picture is a Korazim or teaching seat from an ancient synagogue.


On this day which is holy to you, O Lord our God, your people assemble to hear your words and delight in the feast you prepare. Let the Spirit that anointed Jesus send us forth to proclaim your freedom and favor. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.

From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year C, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some thoughts on the Gospel of Luke 4:14-21

In our liturgical reading we have moved from the Epiphany through the Baptism of our Lord, to his first miracle at the Wedding in Cana of Galilee. We arrive this week to settle into a reading of Luke’s Gospel as Luke intended it, sequentially. We land in this first reading (following the propers for Ordinary Time) on Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth. It is never easy to come home, and it certainly brings its own challenges when you have been filled with the Holy Spirit, as in Jesus’ case.

We certainly have the parallels for this section in Matthew 13:53-54 and Mark 6:1-2 if you wish to read through them. And, as in Acts 13:15 and the parallel passages we are given a view of the worship that dominated synagogue gatherings of Jesus’ time. (Haslam)

We are in transition mode in the Gospel once again, and here the words from verse 14: “filled with the power of the Spirit” remind us that in Luke’s Gospel we haven’t been at the wedding but rather at his baptism. So we are in the midst of Jesus’ inaugural preaching mission which begins, according to Luke, at home.

For Luke teaching and preaching flows out of the Holy spirit, as do all the activities of ministry. This is clear throughout the Lukan Gospel and certainly in the first chapter of Acts: 5:3, 5:17, 6:6, 13:10, 22, 19:47, 20:1, 21, 21:37, 23:5, Acts 1.1. The scholar Luke Timothy Johnson believes the Holy Spirit sent Jesus out on a preaching tour of the many towns and villages and that he is just now coming to Nazareth. Jesus has returned to “where he has been raised.” Interestingly, Luke uses the term “nourished” here. Jesus is returning to where he was nourished, and the word frequently means where he was nourished in his religious studies (see Luke, Luke Timothy Johnson, p78).

Some scholars believe that the words “as was his custom” were used to describe Jesus’ custom of teaching in synagogues. I believe this better belongs to the idea that as a pious Jew, Jesus knew that the custom of attending synagogue. He was nourished in a Jewish home and educated in their religious customs and it was his nature to follow what his family had given him and return to the synagogue to worship on the Sabbath. (The Sabbath is a theme in Luke’s Gospel and can be picked up in these passages: see also 4:31-37 (teaching and casting out a demon ); 6:1-5 (his disciples pluck some heads of grain), 6:6-11 (restores a man’s withered hand); 13:10-17 (heals a crippled woman); 14:1-6 (heals a man who had dropsy).

Third Isaiah, or later Isaiah, is so very essential in the early Christian understanding of who Jesus was and understanding his ministry. This is true for Luke that begins with several citations and now continues in this passage with a reading that helps the reader know who Jesus is. Just think about the prophetic words being read and how here in the midst of the people of Nazareth is Jesus the person who will fulfill in his ministry the very words of Isaiah. Jesus will cure, bind up the broken-hearted, and announce the day of the reign of God, comfort all who mourn, provide for those who mourn free the captives, and to proclaim a Jubilee year. You and I can think of moments throughout the Gospel narrative when Jesus does these things. Moreover, you and I can also tell stories of when Jesus Christ did these things in our own lives, along our journeys.

Handing the scroll back to the minister or Hazzan – a person who is a synagogue leader, Jesus sits down.

We of course continue with the second half of the story next Sunday. What is very important here is that Luke has moved this event to the very first part of Jesus ministry – considering where both Mark and Matthew place it in the Gospel. Luke is illustrating, and highlighting, who this is, what his ministry is and what kind of messiah is he going to be. Luke’s Jesus is here for the disenfranchised and for the poor. Luke wants this message to get out right at the beginning as if to inaugurate Jesus ministry with clarity about his coming from God on God’s behalf to restore creation, making the wounded whole, and filling the hungry with good things.

Like so many stories in the Old Testament where God acts on behalf of his people because they are not being cared for, Luke gives us a vision of the incarnation where God is seeking to restore creation. The restoration of creation for Luke begins with the understanding of God’s special interest in the poor, powerless, and voiceless. Jesus’ work is a freedom and release from evil through exorcisms, healings, education, and economic transformation. Luke Timothy Johnson writes, “the radical character of this mission is specified above all by its being offered to and accepted by those who were the outcasts of the people.” (Luke, 81)

Some questions I am pondering: Are we as a church involved in this work? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus and not be directly involved in the work that Jesus was involved in? Who are God’s people today that we are not being attentive to?

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  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
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