This weeks text is devided clearly in two. I wanted to preach on the text as a whole, which makes the regular kind of sense. After praying about it and taking a closer look there were clearly two messages I needed to take on board.
Have you ever listened to a good speaker and been carried along by their great speaking voice and the intelligent articulation of their chosen subject? Have you been impressed only to have someone, a friend or a voice in your head say, ‘hang on a minute, what about this or that … it seems a little off’. This is what is happening in the synagogue in Nazareth. People are excited to have Jesus home and have probably heard about the miracles that he has been performing. They are joyful, expectant and looking forward to some tales of ‘ministry’ in the wilds outside of little Nazareth. Everything is going well in this week’s text but in next week’s continuation of the story, it all seems to go horrible wrong. Instead of a ‘nice message pastor’, their beloved son leads them somewhere they do not want to go and he seems to saying things about them that they do not recognise and don’t like hearing.
To follow this story, you need to see your self in the congregation, observing what is going on and trying to imagine the dynamics. These are all nice enough people; friends and family that all live, work and worship together in the same small village. Jesus loves them. What is he trying to achieve by stirring them up?
Luke 4:14-21 NIV – Glory and Grace
14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside.
Jesus had been to the Jordan River, probably west of Jerusalem. He had received the Holy Spirit in baptism; received his direct connection to the Father and the power for his ministry. He also received a public endorsement from ‘heaven’. The Father said, ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ Top position in the company, a promotion with authority and power, recognition from above.; the dream job.
Then we are told in 4:1, ‘Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.’
How’s that for an initiation. Here’s your glory and your authority, here’s your power now, go hungry for forty days, suffer deprivation to the point of physical exhaustion and only then face the most expert apologist there is outside of heaven. So, his ministry began with suffering and so it was defined.
Points of Interest:
- ‘Tempted’ also means tested. ‘Tempted’ sounds cruel and arbitrary to me. It feels as if it lacks a context. Maybe the devil is cruel but surely never arbitrary. He is always looking for a weakness and has many tactics to achieve his goal of infiltration. So, perhaps ‘tempted’ is a point of view from the one who intends us evil; a means of corrupting our created purpose. ‘Tested’ puts a whole new slant on it. There is nothing arbitrary involved in testing. There is clear purpose in testing anything. ‘Testing’ is performed to make sure something of someone is indeed, fit for purpose and able to carry out the duties assigned. The Father demonstrated on his Son how he prepares us so that we are fit for purpose. He gave Jesus his Spirit and his seal of approval, ‘you are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’.
- An ‘apologist’ is someone who gives a clear and intelligent defence of their beliefs; in Christianity it is a defence of faith.
This is not the 21stC Christian ideal, is it? Isn’t the presence of God meant to give us peace and joy? Don’t we come ‘to church’ to leave feeling good about our selves and at peace within?
Perhaps modern Christianity with its strong emphasis on ‘feel good praise and worship’ has left a significant hole in our understanding and in our survival skills for a world that is broken and corrupt. I think previous generations knew the value of lament in public worship. With high rates of death by disease, infant and mother mortality, grief and suffering where part of day to day life. Conversations and the rituals and processes of grieving, mourning and enduring were recognised and well understood. Of course, we still suffer pain and loss but it’s often well hidden in our healthy, youth culture world. We westerners must go to Asia or Africa, or central Australian Aboriginal communities to witness poverty, pain and the daily rituals of endurance.
- What do we do with ‘testing’ in our lives? The general response is to avoid it at all costs.
- How could you/we begin to successfully integrate an understanding of ‘testing’ into our lives and culture?
- How could you/we benefit from owning the pain and suffering that comes with any test, especially tests of faith?
15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
At this point Jesus is teaching outside of his home town and is gaining favour everywhere he went. His name and reputation were spreading before him. So, you can imagine the build up and the expectations upon his arrival in Nazareth. Home town boy made good! A local son returned home to show the locals what he had learned and become. What miracles will he perform here? Knowing how the text goes, you can feel the disappointment already?
16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.
I guess you had to be invited to read the lessons. I don’t think things have changed in that area. Good order has always been a part of a gentle life together. So, Jesus, the local boy made good, is invited to read the texts for the day. The daily Parsha, or scripture readings are normally laid down for every day of the year and that Saturday’s was apparently from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus however, seems to skip the assigned verses and opens to the verses he intends to read. This was his first departure from the traditions of the synagogue. His second, was to presume to teach. He sat as a rabbi and began teaching. Now anyone could ask a question or posit an idea in discussion but it was the recognised rabbi that did the teaching. Jesus was a local boy, a carpenter’s son and not a recognised teacher from a recognised school. He was, to all local knowledge, self-educated.
His teaching, as we will see next week, really stirred things up.
The Follow Through
- Jesus takes the words of Isaiah as his own and he takes them from the context of Israel in captivity to Babylon. The suggestion is that the people in front of him and indeed all of Israel were captives that needed freeing, again, and from the same sinful ways that led to the Babylonian captivity – false worship, idolatry, the rejection of Yahweh. They are prisoners of their own sinful ways and blind to the things of God. Now, Jesus is promising the Jubilee year, the year of the Lord’s favour. The Jubilee year, the 50th year, was a time to cancel debt, return land to its rightful owner and restore the fortunes of the poor. It was God’s command to Israel but it was never practiced. As a result, Israel was full of poor Jews who had lost their land, livelihood and inheritance and thus were ‘prisoners’ in serfdom to the wealthy; Jews enslaved by Jews. There was spiritual blindness among the poor who lived as those who had been abandoned and among the wealthy who believed that they truly owned the land of others and that they had been ‘born to rule’. For differing reasons, all were blind, poor, trapped and oppressed.
- Synagogues were and are very traditional places with high expectations that those traditions will be adhered to by every generation. Jesus is not much for tradition it seems, at least the unhelpful kind. The immediate and violent consequences of his disregard, we will see next week.
The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
- Ignored tradition,
- Insinuated himself into the role of the local rabbi
- Declared that he carries the authority of God as Isaiah had and has
- The power to instigate the Jubilee Year by the authority of God and even in opposition to the people and their long held historic resistance to God in these matters
Jesus has gone from being tested to the one who tests. Oh, and he started with family and friends. Mary must have been mortified?!
And yet, the gathering had not quite understood what he was saying to them. They haven’t heard everything yet. What could possibly go wrong?
Next week Pt. 2 – Luke 4:21-30 – Where Heaven and Earth Meet