the agitator – Luke’s Jesus 5

Luke 4:16-21: Jesus’ announcement at Nazereth

The next major theme in Jesus’ reading from Isaiah 61 is “release” (translated as “freedom” in the NIV):

–         “to announce release/freedom to the captives”

–         “to release the oppressed”

Remember, this final line was actually taken from Isaiah 58:6 and inserted into the quotation of Isaiah 61. The repetition of this word “release” in Jesus’ announcement means that Luke wants to highlight this as a major theme in Jesus’ ministry. What does it mean?

The Greek word “release” (aphesis) has a wider range of meaning than our English word “release”:

(1)   it is the common word for “forgiveness” (see Luke 1:77; 3:3; and 24:47): but this is not just a personal matter, such “release” from sin implies restoration back into the community, and has major social ramifications (see Luke 5:27-32).

(2)   “release” in the quotation from Isaiah 61 renders the Hebrew word “liberation, freedom” (deror), which is the key word used in the Hebrew laws concerning the “Year of Jubilee”, found in Leviticus 25.

The Jubilee year was to take place among the Israelites every 50th year, and involved the following: all servants, or debt-servants were to be freed, all debts were to be cancelled, any family land inheritance that was sold (usually b/c the family could not afford it any longer) was to be returned to the original family owners.

This law was primarily directed to keep any families or clans within Israel from perpetual poverty, or losing their land. The rationale for this law is given three times in Leviticus 25: Yahweh redeemed Israel out of slavery in Egypt, therefore Israel is to make sure that no other Israelite remained in perpetual debt-slavery (see Leviticus 25:38, 42, and 55).

In later Judaism, the Jubilee year, which itself was modeled on the Exodus story, became a symbol identified with ‘liberation from debt, slavery; freedom and restoration,’ and that is what the concept seems to mean in Isaiah 61. In other words, the word “release” came to have wider implications, not just concerning land and slaves, but came to symbolize the New Age, when Yahweh would bring justice and restoration to his world.

Thus Luke wants us to see that freedom from bondage, slavery, debt, both economic and spiritual was a dominant motif and aim of Jesus’ mission. This is played out in chapters 5-9 of Luke, as Jesus encounters all the people I listed in the previous post.

As a side note, remember that Luke is composing his gospel as the first of a two-part work. His presentation of Jesus is not simply a historical memoir, but he present Jesus’ mission as a model for what his followers are to be all about, and he presents that story in his second volume, Acts. It’s important to note that Luke highlights the ongoing liberation mission in robust terms: Jesus followers shared goods to sustain the poor, brought healing and restoration to the same kinds of people Jesus moved towards, etc. (see Acts 2-5).

Luke presents us w/ a full-orbed, holistic mission of Jesus’ followers, modeled upon the mission of the master himself. Challenging stuff.


~ by tmackie on August 17, 2009.

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