Of Scapegoats and Jubilees: Reading Between the Lines in Luke 4:16-30

torah-readingIn Luke 4:16-30 we have a uniquely Lukan story. After his baptism by John, Jesus undergoes 40 days of temptation in the wilderness. He then returns to Galilee full of the Spirit and teaches in the synagogues. Luke 4:16-30 gives us one example of his teaching. In Luke, this sermon is programmatic. It sets the agenda for Jesus’ mission: the restoration of Israel, with a focus on the poor, the marginalized, and the outcast. Here, in his hometown Nazareth, Jesus appropriates the prophet’s words from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

A couple things in this text should be noted. First, the text, in Jesus’ mouth, points back to his own reception of the Spirit at his baptism. This is the divine empowerment which enables him to carry out his prophetic task. Second, the gospel (good news) that Jesus brings has a distinctively social and economic texture. The Israel Jesus addresses (his Nazareth audience is surely typical of the subsistence-level peasant population in Galilee) is viewed as one languishing in captivity. Under foreign domination (Rome) and a corrupt temple establishment, ancestral lands had been confiscated and once-free Israelites suffered in poverty as virtual debt-slaves. Many pious Israelites would have seen these woes as the outworking of the covenant curses (see Deuteronomy 28:15ff), brought on by Israel’s sins. The vision of salvation here is thus holistic, dealing not only with personal sins against God but with corporate sins involving systematic oppression. Continue reading

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