the agitator – Luke’s Jesus 4

Luke 4:16-30: Jesus announces his mission in Nazereth

Jesus heads to his hometown and reads from Isaiah in the synagogue. This narrative has been placed by Luke at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. It seems that he wants us to see his announcement as a paradigm for Jesus’ entire ministry. Because Luke has highlighted the importance of this story, I want to spend a few posts on it, exploring the implications of his long quotation from Isaiah 61.

Just to give some context, I’ll put the Isaiah text and Jesus’ quotation of it side by side.

Isaiah 61:1-2

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 bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives

And recovery of sight for the blind

2 To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD And the day of vengeance of our God;

Luke 4:18-19

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

because he has anointed me

to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me

to proclaim release for the prisoners

and recovery of sight for the blind,

to release the oppressed,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

A few quick observations: (1) note that at the end of v. 18, an extra phrase has been attached. This line is taken from Isaiah 58:6, and it seems that Jesus (or Luke?) has added it here to highlight the theme of “release” to describe Jesus’ ministry. We’ll talk about this in a future post. (2) at the end of v. 19, the final line of Isaiah 61:2 has been omitted, likely because it highlights the dawn of divine justice, and Jesus’ mission is now characterized as one of liberation and healing. Let’s now start to move through some different aspects of this announcement.

Let’s start with “the poor”. Who are “the poor” in v. 18? In our culture ‘poor’ is defined in primarily economic terms, someone who has few or no financial resources. In ancient Mediterranean culture, one’s public status involved not just financial means but education, gender, family background, vocation, economic status, etc. Thus ‘poor’ has a much wider range of meaning in such cultures, it refers to anyone of low status, living in disadvantaged conditions of any sort.

Jesus is here announcing that his spirit-anointed mission is to move towards the ‘poor’, i.e. those who for any reason have been relegated to a secondary status in their community.

Joel Green is worth quoting here: “Jesus’ mission is directed to the poor. . . in the holistic sense of those who are for any number of reasons relegated to positions outside the boundaries of God’s people. Jesus refuses to recognize those socially determined boundaries, asserting instead that these ‘outsiders’ now can belong to God’s family” [p. 211].

This announcement of Jesus has been placed here by Luke as the beginning of his Galilean mission. In this prominent place, it seems that Luke wants us to filter the next 5 chapters (chs. 4-9) through this lens: Jesus represents God’s grace and generosity moving outside the boundary lines, towards the ‘poor’, i.e. the disadvantaged. This plays itself out in the following chapters as Jesus encounters…

  • a leper: ritually impure and unable to enter the temple (see Leviticus 13-14)
  • a paralyzed man [ch. 5]
  • tax collecters and ‘sinners’ [ch. 5]
  • a Roman centurion [not financially ‘poor’, but definitely outside the boundary lines of the Jewish people, ch. 7]
  • a widow [ch. 7]
  • a prostitute [ch. 7]
  • a demonized gentile [ch. 8]

One can distill a basic principle of Jesus’ mission here as Luke wants us to see it: Holy Spirit empowered Jesus moves toward outsiders. It finds them, and also attracts them.

More anon.

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~ by tmackie on August 16, 2009.

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