A Provocation: Third Sunday after the Epiphany: January 27, 2019: Luke 4:14-22

14   He returned,
           Joshua did
                in the power of the breath
      into Galilee.
      Fame went out
           through the whole of the surrounding region
      concerning him.
15   He was teaching
           in the synagogues
                being glorified by all.
16   He came into Nazareth
           where he was brought up.
      He went in,
           in accord with his custom
                in the day of the Sabbaths,
      into the synagogue.
      He stood up to read.
17        It was given to him:
                a book of the prophet Isaiah.
           He opened the book;
                he found the place where it stood written:
18                  A breath of haShem upon me
                          because of which he anointed me
                               to bring good news to the poor.
                     He sent me,
                          to proclaim
                               to exiled captives:
                                    release;
                               to blind people:
                                    seeing again;
                          to send those who have been crushed into release,
19                    to proclaim a year of haShem acceptable.
20        He rolled the book.
           He gave it back to the attendant.
           He sat.
                The eyes of all in the synagogue
                     were staring at him.
21        He began to say to them:
                 Today it has been fulfilled,
                      this writing,
     in your ears.
22   Everyone was bearing favorable witness to him.
           They were amazed regarding the words,
                the gracious words,
                those coming out of his mouth.
           They were saying:
                Isn’t this one a son of Joseph?


A Question or Two:

  • Why does Jesus go to synagogue?
  • Why does ANY Jew go to synagogue?
  • Did you ask a Jewish friend, or did you just guess?
  • Just wondering.

Some Longer Reflections:

The first thing to notice is that Jesus meets a warm welcome in synagogue after synagogue. This glad reception extends also to his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. The storyteller makes it clear: he is “glorified by all;” everyone “[bears] favorable witness to him.” They are “amazed” by his words, and the word used by the storyteller implies that they see in him a sign of the working of God in their midst.

Interpreters often forget this, distracted, perhaps, by the violence with which the larger scene ends. That violence matters, to be sure. The violence matters, but so does the warm welcome. This is not a story about “The Rejection of Jesus in Nazareth,” no matter what my HarperCollins Study Bible says (HarperSanFrancisco, 1989). It is the story of Jesus being accepted throughout Galilee, including in Nazareth. And then it is the story of the synagogue congregants in Nazareth rising up against Jesus.

Both reactions happen, and your task as an interpreter next week will be to explore what leads to this drastic change from glad acceptance to angry expulsion.

But this week the task is to notice, first of all, their welcome.

The next task is to notice that Jesus reads from Second Isaiah. This could be the haftorah, the selection from the prophets tied to the Torah portion assigned to the day. If so (and if the current lectionary was in use in ancient Galilee), the congregation might also have heard a passage from Exodus detailing the Tabernacle, the forerunner to the Temple. If this is the context being suggested, then Luke’s ancient audience would have been remembering that Rome had destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem when they heard the storyteller speak Jesus’ words about good news and restoration.

Or the passage from Second Isaiah could have been the haftorah passage for Yom Kippur. In that case, the synagogue in Nazareth would have been filled with people who were completing their celebration of the High Holy Days. This actually fits with an oddity in the Greek that is not often translated: Jesus is in the synagogue “in the day of the Sabbaths.” If this is a reference to the “Sabbath of the Sabbaths,” then this is certainly a Yom Kippur scene. The Book of Heaven has been open since the beginning of the High Holy Days on Rosh Hashanah, and God is engaged in determining who is included in that Book.

In the context of the making of that Divine Determination, the haftorah from Second Isaiah speaks a particularly gracious note. Who is included in the Book of Heaven? It is the poor, the crushed, the outcasts and the overwhelmed. The High Holy Days sing a song of gracious acceptance to set the backdrop for the crucial activity of making amends for wrongs done during the past year.

If you are not familiar with the practice of making amends as part of Yom Kippur, think of Ash Wednesday, think of Maundy Thursday, think of the tasks proper to Lent. During the High Holy Days, Jews seek to heal relationships that might have been broken in the past year. Those who have injured others ask, face to face, for forgiveness. Those who have been injured have the freedom to grant forgiveness, and if the injury was too great, they have the freedom to decline. (You can hear echoes of this crucial freedom in Jesus’ words elsewhere in the gospels about binding and loosing.)

Jesus says that the healing of the crushed and the exiled is taking place on that very day, in that very synagogue. The people in Nazareth, who will have known plenty about such injuries, react with joy. “Isn’t this one a son of Joseph?” they ask, thus giving a compliment both to the father and to the son. I come from a small town. Anytime anyone said, “You’re Vera and Heimer’s son, aren’t you?” it made me proud and humble. My parents told me that they felt something similar.

That is the thing to notice this week: the crushed and the broken have their names recorded in the Book of Heaven. God is at work healing the Creation.

Everyone in Nazareth, every in all of Galilee, they all heard the promise of God coming out of the mouth of Jesus. And they welcomed him gladly.

One thought on “A Provocation: Third Sunday after the Epiphany: January 27, 2019: Luke 4:14-22

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