The gospel of Luke is written with a Gentile or Greek-speaking cultured people in mind. If focuses upon the universality of the message of Jesus in a time in which identity was based heavily upon tribalism, ethnicity and gender. The Greek language is more complex, and Hebraic notions, Jewish practices are explained (whereas in Matthew they are not). In writing the gospel account Luke focuses upon the role and importance of women and the poor, more than the other three gospels, and relates the most parable teachings of Jesus.
Today’s story is both easy and complicated. We see the general acclamation of Jesus in his preaching, the literary insistence upon him being anointed and empowered by God’s Holy Spirit. Yet it all ends surprisingly: not with a standing ovation, but a mob threat of assassination. So, what’s going on underneath the seemingly clear narrative?
Jesus returns home and preaches in the weekly synagogue service. This involved reading the Torah and Prophets, interpreting them for the day. He reads from Isaiah 61, the depiction of what the world will look like in the Year of Jubilee, understood to be the advent of God’s Messiah bringing God’s justice to the world. He then ends his address by saying that this scriptural promise of radical change is happening in and through him right then and there. For us it might be easiest to understand his sermon as ending with him dropping the mic and walking off the dais, having said something along the lines of “Yep! It’s happening now. In me. Let’s go!” The congregation exults. Then slowly starts to question his pedigree, and familiarity. The unexpected twist happens when Jesus invokes two stories form the Hebrew Scriptures in which God’s salvation is extended not to the expected Israelites, but rather to the disliked, unworthy, unrighteous Gentiles (1 Kings 17:1-15 & 2 Kings 5:1-14). What they hear is Jesus saying “God is doing a new thing. God is saving the world. But not first for you.” The change he presents, which sounded so good, like water to a parched person, is abhorrent, offensive, deplorable. His inaugural sermon doesn’t end how we expect, but as we experience the story of his life, teaching, death and resurrection; we realize how spot on, exhilarating and also offensive his person and word is for our human condition, both then and now in 2017.
Questions for the Practice of Examen & Contemplation What strikes you in this passage?
- How does it interact with your life? How are you struggling with the changes in our world, city and church?
- How have you known the message, passion and person of Jesus to be a radical word of healing and experience of deliverance as is described in the reading from Isaiah in Luke 3:18-19? How do you hold that message of Jubilee in the darkness that exists as a shadow in our life?
- The people of Nazareth are initially attracted, then deeply offended by the universal purpose and person of Jesus which seems to be first for others (the Gentiles), not them. What offends you in the message of Jesus? What part(s) of his teaching are hard for you to accept, to practice, to embrace? Talk to God about these challenges, asking for wisdom, new sight and a teachable spirit.
Find a downloadable textual study sheet HERE.