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Luke 4:14-30 - Is Not This Joseph’s Son?

Luke 4:14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“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, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21) Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  22) All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.  They said, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”  23) He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’  And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’”  24) And he said, “Truly I tell you; no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.  25) But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; 26) yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.  27) There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”  28) When they heard this all in the synagogue were filled with rage.  29) They got up, drove him out of town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so they might hurl him off the cliff.  30) But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Background:  Today’s text begins with Jesus reading of a passage from Isa. 61 during a regular synagogue worship service in his hometown of Nazareth. The beautiful text he chose talks about God’s graciousness toward the poor and the oppressed. This was Jesus’ own personal mission statement. It gives us a glimpse of what Jesus saw as the kingdom of God lived on earth.

Jubilee: The Isaiah text is associated with the Old Testament law of Jubilee. Jubilee was to occur once every 50 years. During the year of Jubilee, a celebration of liberty, the land was granted a year of rest, all debts were cancelled, indentured servants and slaves were set free and any lands that had had to be sold for reasons of hardship were restored to the original owners. Jubilee was a clear command of God and yet there is no indication that Israel ever honored it. The purpose of Jubilee was to ensure that wealth did not accumulate in any one person, group or family’s hands. Obviously, to do Jubilee would have meant complete economic turmoil. So, when Jesus reads this text, it carries with it the promise of a kind of economic ‘re-set’ as a celebration of God’s gracious reign. This was great news for the poor, but really scary news for those who had wealth and influence. Remember too, that for Luke it is important that all that Jesus says and does is completely consistent with Jewish teaching.

Word Study

Vs. 15 – synagogues – While there was only one Temple, there were many smaller synagogues where people assembled for worship.  They also included schools, community centers and courts.

Vs. 16 – Nazareth – Jesus’ hometown where folks have known him since he was a child.

Vs. 18-19 – Isaiah 61:1-2

Vs. 21 – Today – this word is truly startling. It lets the people know that God’s reign of graciousness and equality is now, not sometime later after certain things happen.

            Fulfilled – this word means ‘to complete completely.’

Vs. 22 – spoke well of him – an interesting phrase that could literally be translated ‘bore him witness’.  It implies that they highly respected him, which is odd because they are about to turn on him violently.

            Amazed – this does not imply either positive or negative amazement.  It could be either.

            Gracious words – his message of grace and generosity

            Is this not Joseph’s son – this phrase can be read to imply perplexity or irritation.  We might also render it “So what can you do for us, your hometown folk?”

Vs. 23 – In this verse Jesus anticipates their challenge of him and realizes that they want him to give concrete evidence of the power they have heard that he possesses.

            Capernaum – a town with a very large non-Jewish population.  They have heard of the works he has done there.  The fact that there were many Gentile residents probably heightened their anxiety about their own status.

Vs. 24 – Truly I tell you – these words signal a solemn, formal teaching.

            No prophet is accepted – the rejection of the prophets is contrasted with God’s acceptance of all. The reality to which he points is that greatness is rarely celebrated back home.

Vs. 25 – But the truth is – could be translated “I assure you”.

Vs. 26 – sent – by God.

            The Elijah story referred to here is found in 1 Kings 17:8-14.  Zarephath was a Gentile town.

Vs. 27The Elisha story referred to here is found in 11 Kings 5:1-17.

Questions for Personal Reflection

  1. What do you think about the economic concept of Liberty (Jubilee) that Jesus claims to fulfill?
  2. Sometimes Jesus’ message of radical grace can be unsettling. Can you think of ways that you may resist that grace? That the church resists?
  3. One of the things that made Jesus’ hometown friends angry was that he challenged their notion of privileged status. Can you think of examples in the modern day in which people become uncomfortable when their sense of privilege is threatened?
  4. The people of Nazareth resented that Jesus took God’s grace outside the community. Have you ever seen that dynamic at work in a church?