Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
When 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, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
‘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 favour.’
And 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. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ (NRSV)
Our reading begins with a broad-sweeping summary passage of the nature of Jesus’ ministry immediately following his baptism and temptation. In the same way that Luke has has highlighted the Spirit’s activity in these two preceding events, our author points once more to the activity of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ ministry, from first to last, is initiated by the very presence of God.
We are, of course, still at the beginning of Jesus mission. Luke has, so far, made no specific reports of Jesus-initiated miracles.
Of course, this is not to say that this man has not been surrounded by extraordinary events. From his birth three decades ago Jesus has been one to watch. He has been the subject of angels, prophecies, and the opening of heaven itself. Already he is getting some sort of reputation (See Luke 4:23).
And so it is not so surprising that upon his return to Galilee his presence was noticed. Jesus is attracting attention, gaining an audience, finding his voice. Jesus is becoming a topic.
And so, upon visiting his childhood synagogue, Jesus is invited to stand and read. At the initiative of others he is handed the scroll of the legendary prophet Isaiah .
But from here Jesus takes control. It is he who selects the passage, he who chooses its beginning and end, he who offers his brief self-reflective commentary. Here is Jesus going public on the nature of the ministry he intends to undertake. It is an exciting and revealing moment.
Isaiah’s passage opens with the, now familiar, mention of the Holy Spirit. It speaks of anointing and ‘good news’ towards a specific people. It will be proclaimed among the ‘poor’, the ‘captives’, the ‘blind’, and the ‘oppressed’.
And it will be to them a time of ‘the Lord’s favour’ – a phrase loudly echoing the ancient call to Jubilee. This God-initiated fiftieth year of forgiveness, cancelled debt, and freedom was a time to start again.
Jesus’ ministry will be characterised by such acts. It will remind the poor and outcast of a freedom they were not capable of winning themselves – like when the blind revert back to lost days filled with light, or, when the imprisoned rediscover days of big skies, sunlight, and distant horizons. It will be a time of hope beyond hope.
Many of Jesus’ time would have celebrated the fulfillment of Isaiah’s vision. After all it goes on to speak of release from oppression and a ‘day of vengence’ against the enemy (Isaiah 61:2). With Roman soldiers patrolling their streets such words could gain quite a hearing – and a following.
But Jesus has not read this bit. Instead he has chosen to roll the scroll mid-sentence (See Isaiah 61:2 NRSV). A time will come for the removal of Israel’s enemies. But it is not now.
And it may not look anything like they imagine. In fact, the ministry of Jesus will offer this same forgiveness and freedom to all – even to enemies and foreigners. Perhaps this is why Jesus goes on to initiate his controversial conversation about ‘Zerephath in Sidon’ (4:26) and ‘Naaman the Syrian’ (4:27). Such talk will not contribute constructively to his rising fame.
But this mission will not be remembered for its popularity. Rather, Jesus’ time on this earth will be characterised by a grace that extends beyond any man-made borders. Somehow the love of God is greater in power and scope than the people of Nazareth could ever imagine.
Of course, we who read two thousand years later do well to hold our boast. The grace of Jesus will extend beyond the wildest dreams of us all.