Weekly Bible Reflection
Luke: Signs of the Kingdom
Third Sunday of Epiphany
Text: Luke 4 verses 14 - 21. "A rocky start to ministry"
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
What is the most challenging thing you have ever heard said in a church service? What reaction did it provoke from you?
A Window on the Text
The congregation at the synagogue in Nazareth had a bit of a surprise. They went along expecting the usual service – a reading, a talk from a visiting Rabbi perhaps, a few soothing prayers. And what happens? They are faced by a local lad who has three audacious claims – first that the promises of centuries-old scriptures have been fulfilled in him, second that the moment of salvation for which they have longed is now and third that Gentiles are the recipients of God’s grace as well as Jews.
Jesus has come with a reputation – Luke says he has already spoken in synagogues around the area, including Capernaum. People are curious to see and hear this person beginning to make a name for himself – after all he is only the son of Mary and Joseph, and grew up in Nazareth – and perhaps they can bask in a bit of reflected glory.
Jesus reads from two passages, Isaiah 61 and 58. They allude to the Year of the Lord’s favour – the Jubilee – the year when good news has come for everyone, and there is release from the oppression of fear, debt, poverty and disease. That all sounds very fine for a poor community in remote Galilee – but the effect of these words on them cannot be understood without reference to the verses that follow (22 – 28).
So what happens to lead from an exciting church service into attempted murder? Jesus tells the people of his hometown what they want to know – that God favours them. But a few must have started muttering, because amazement at his learning and gracious way of speaking soon turns enthusiasm to doubt, fury and mob violence. Perhaps they’d heard of some exciting miracles in Capernaum and expected to see them repeated in Nazareth. When Jesus doesn’t oblige, he hears comments like, “charity begins at home you know”. These provoke more quotes from the scriptures – stories illustrating how Gentiles can be more responsive to God than the people of Israel. Jesus rejects the narrow nationalism of his contemporaries.
A short time ago Jesus had turned down the temptation to throw himself from the highest point of the temple so that God could command his angels to save him. Now he is faced with a furious crowd wanting to throw him down a cliff. Instead of taking the opportunity to astound the crowd with ‘magical tricks’, he again relies on his own integrity and his relationship with God to remove himself from danger.
Responding as a community
- Where do you see the church bringing good news to the poor today?
- When Jesus declared that in his person the Jubilee requirements were being fulfilled, it was enough to make people want to kill him. In our world today, if we take seriously the biblical imperatives to restore land, property, freedom or dignity to those from whom it has been removed, we too will be met with opposition. Is there any hope of changing the focus of our churches from ‘keeping the show on the road’, when doing anything more serious is seen as ‘getting too political’?
- In what ways does nationalism manifest itself in society today? How might we affirm people of other nationalities as Jesus did?
- G K Chesterton said that “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting – it has been found difficult and not tried at all” – do you think this is a fair statement?
- Lord you came to proclaim release to the captives and to set free the oppressed.
Help us, together, to break the chains that bind us,
and transform them into a chain of solidarity.
Light a candle for hope;
(Resources from “Keep Watch with Me” by Christian Aid for Debt Decision Day, 23 July 2000)
Hope looks for the good in people instead of seeing the worst.
Hope discovers what can be done instead of grumbling about what cannot.
Hope pushes ahead when it might be easy to give up.
Hope opens doors where despair closes them.
Hope lights candles instead of cursing the darkness.
More background Information
Kenneth E Bailey’s book Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes, 2008, SPCK, London,pages 147ff. provides very helpful insights into this passage.
- Synagogue worship was in its early stages of development in Jesus’ day. It came into its own after the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. Often there would have been no official ‘minister’ and distinguished visitors would sometimes be asked to preach. Reading from scripture would be done standing up; preaching and teaching were done from a seated position.
- Only 2% of the Galilean population would have been able to read. Communications would have been by word of mouth. Gossip, both positive and negative, would have had a powerful influence on people’s knowledge and expectations.
- The honour/shame culture was the pivotal focus of this time. A community would have had a strict code of honour with regard to people’s social standing, and their prescribed interaction. To claim honour that the community did not recognise was to play the fool, and what one person won, another lost. To transgress the honour code whether in connection with marriage, business, where one lived, or the religious life could have repercussions for an entire kin group. To insinuate as Jesus did that outsiders were better able to judge the honour of a prophet than those who knew him best was a great insult. (For more details see Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels by Malina and Rohrbaugh.)
- The consternation caused by Jesus’ claim “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” has been summed up as “People are not to be predetermined as insiders or outsiders by their sex, family heritage, financial position, location in the city or in rural environs, religious purity and so on. The message of Jesus is that such status markers are no longer binding. Anyone may freely receive the grace of God. Anyone may join the community of Jesus’ followers. All are welcome”. (From The Theology of the Gospel of Luke by Joel B Green. Quoted by Richard A Buridge in Imitating Jesus, an Inclusive Approach to New Testament Ethics.)
- In 2006 the world’s 497 billionaires were worth $3.5 trillion. The 2.4 billion people of the world’s lowest income countries accounted for £1.6 trillion of GDP. http://www.globalissues.org/article/26/poverty-facts-and-stats