First Mennonite Church
May 24, 2015
Good News for Today
Text: Luke 4: 14-30
This passage is Luke’s account of Jesus’ inauguration of his public ministry. Although Luke has recorded earlier words uttered by Jesus, those were not addressed to an audience. Jesus had spoken them to the devil, while undergoing temptation as recorded in the first part of chapter four.
After Jesus had fasted for forty days and was tempted by the devil, Luke writes: Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit. On the Sabbath day, as was Jesus’ custom, he went to the synagogue.
The typical worship service in the synagogue included the following:
- Reciting the Shema: “Hear O Israel.”
- Recitation of the Decalogue,
- Recitation of eighteen benedictions
- Reading of Scriptures, Psalms,
- Exposition of Scriptures and
- The final blessing.
Various people participated in the reading and prayers. Then the Hazzan—assistant would hand over the scroll to the assigned reader for the day. As early as the time of Jesus, the Synagogue service had defined a fixed triennial cycle to read the whole Torah. But the scroll Jesus was given was that of the Prophet Isaiah. In Jesus’ time the Holy Scripture was read in the language it was written—Hebrew, but the interpretation or comments were given in Aramaic.
Luke’s account of Jesus in the synagogue focuses only on what Jesus did and the ensuing reaction of the worshipers in the Nazareth synagogue.
According to Luke’s account, Jesus read from Isaiah 61:1, and 58:6, with part of verse 6 being left out. The omitted parts read: “to bind up the brokenhearted… to let the oppressed go free,” and “to proclaim the day of vengeance of our God.”
What mattered to Luke was not what Jesus did not read but what he did and the affirmation he made about the passage.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me,” Jesus read. Jesus did a remarkable thing not done by any worshiper before him. He claimed the fulfilment of this prophecy in his person. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has made me his Messiah”—his anointed one, Jesus told the worshipers. Having claimed God’s Spirit resting and anointing him, Jesus defined his mission:
- to proclaim good news to the poor.
- to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
- [to give] recovery of sight for the blind,
- to set the oppressed free,
- to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
When Jesus had finished reading this passage he sat down. The tension and suspense he had just created, both by the passage he chose and his personalization of it, caused all eyes to come upon him. Everyone was anxious to hear him preach from the text he had just read. Luke reported in verses 14 and 15 about the fame spread in the surrounding country and the preaching Jesus had also done; therefore the worshipers were desperate to hear from him too.
When Jesus opened his mouth, the first words that came out were: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
Today when a major development happens, those watching or hearing it claim to have witnessed “history in the making.” Likewise, those in the synagogue in Nazareth were also shocked because the prophesy Isaiah made some 700 years before was being fulfilled before their very eyes. And it happened in Galilee, where according to John 7:52, never had a prophet ever risen or come out. Therefore, Jesus’ announcement was a marvelous thing to the ears of those who heard it. The worshipers began to hope to share the fame of their new prophet. They began to expect their little town of Nazareth to become the center for miracles and signs from their hometown prophet.
We should not miss to see the claim Jesus made on that Sabbath day: Today this scripture is fulfilled before your hearing. Jesus’ audience did believe that God would intervene sometime in the future. They believed that God’s reign would be established, but to hear from Jesus that God’s visitation to his people had finally arrived and was “today,” should have been the most glorious news they had ever heard. Indeed what Jesus was announcing was that God’s promise of redemption, liberation, forgiveness, in summary, God’s day of salvation had come and was “today!” Today is the day of God’s salvation, Jesus announced! Jesus said it very clearly: his Messianic ministry of announcing the good news to the poor was starting “today!” The Messianic liberation to the oppressed and to the captives was set in motion on that day he called “today.” These works of liberation and healing were not for the future only; not reserved only for the millennium or shortly before it, as some believe. God’s visitation and deliverance to his people and especially for those who were at the disadvantage: the poor, the blind, the oppressed, the captives and dispossessed began the day Jesus said, “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing!”
Luke says that All spoke well of him. All were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. Please notice two things that Luke says about Jesus’ audience. They spoke well of him. Literally this means: “All witnessed to him.” That is: they recognized who he was. The second thing Luke says is: “All were amazed.” Luke was careful to report that they were not rejoicing nor believing him, but were surprised and dumbfounded that the beautiful and gracious words were coming from someone who they knew so well. And they snapped, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”
Although Luke does not tell us what Jesus had done or said in the other towns before he came to his hometown, Jesus’ response to his audience indicated that they had heard something they too would like Jesus to do among them or for them.
Jesus said to them, “Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!’ And you will tell me, ‘Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’”
Jesus reminded them that just as in the past, prophets not only were not treated well by their own people, but that God sometimes sent them to aid people who were not Israelites. All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. Mark in his account of this incident in chapter 6, verses 5 and 6 says, “And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.” Luke tells us that the audience suddenly turned from worshipers into a furious mob and wanted to kill Jesus.
Here is something for us to think about:
Jesus came to announce the good news to the poor. The few people who choose poverty as a way to identify and to serve the needy are often called “saints.” Yet, there is an ever increasing segment of the population who have been pushed outside of the economic power and who are poor. These, on the other hand, are called by various names. We also need to realize that the poor are not only those who struggle financially. Jesus blessed those whom he called “the poor in spirit, for they will see God” (Matthew 5). So there is a kind of poverty that we should seek to become, because that is the condition necessary to be able to see God. Today, the poor need to hear the good news. As a congregation how do we continue to proclaim this good news to the less fortunate? As a congregation how do we embrace the kind of poverty Jesus calls “blessed”?
Jesus came to open the eyes of the blind. Although the Gospel according to Luke does not tell of any account of such healing, the other gospels do. May the Lord open the eyes of our spirit to see where he wants to lead us. May the Lord open our eyes to see what prejudices we might have, yet are blind to them, ourselves.
Jesus came to free the oppressed. This is what Peter said about Jesus, “You know… how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him” (Acts 10: 36a, 38). The oppressed exist wherever oppressors exist. And the oppressor is not only the devil. There are oppressive systems and oppressive institutions that keep people under their power. The people in Nazareth thought that Jesus had come to free them from the oppressive Roman occupiers. They thought the Anointed One—the Christ of God would deliver them from their oppressor, but Jesus was speaking of a different kind of oppressor and a different kind of deliverance.
This leads to my last point. The worshipers of Nazareth had a set of expectations about what the Messiah would do and were disappointed when Jesus failed to comply with their expectations. They wanted Jesus to perform the miracles he had performed elsewhere. Yet they refused to believe his message and wanted to kill him or at least get him out of their church and town. What have we heard God is doing elsewhere and not here? What is it we would like Jesus to do in our midst as he has done in other places? What expectations do we have of God or his work? On the other hand, are we receiving his word?
May the Lord grant us a ready heart to hear and to believe his Word. May the Lord open our eyes and heal any brokenness we might have. May the Lord remind us that “today is the day of salvation.” Amen!
 The New Interpreter’s Bible commentary Vol. IX, (Abingdon Press, Nashville 1995) p. 105,
 Cannon L Morris, The Gospel According to St. Luke, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries