Third Sunday after the Epiphany

by Crossings

Luke 4:14-21
(Third Sunday after the Epiphany)
Analysis by Michael Hoy

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. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

DIAGNOSIS: The Critical Agenda

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: Directed
It might seem that Jesus has a bad sense of direction. Rather than choosing to begin his ministry in the heartland of religious ferment (Jerusalem), Jesus first goes to Galilee, even to his hometown, Nazareth. No matter, for what he finds there is that life in Nazareth is directed by the agenda of Jerusalem. While there is no temple, there is the customary synagogue, and there are all the customary practices that come with the Jewish liturgical agenda. Jesus did not disparage them. He practiced them, too. But his sense of direction is hardly to be construed with that of his fellow Nazareans. For them, the agenda is set by the Law in Jerusalem. And the Law sets the agenda for the world.

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: Fixed
There are some who may object to having the agenda set from someplace or someone outside one’s own sphere of living. Even such objection, however, does not change the fact that the power to set the agenda is within one’s grasp. Even to engage in power struggles with Jerusalem is to not change the agenda that has been set by the Law, nor the agenda of the world. That agenda is fixed. So, interestingly enough, are the eyes on Jesus as he reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Such a fixed gaze is repeated in Luke’s writing in the posture of the council that watched Stephen (Acts 6:15)–and then wanted his execution. The fixed gaze on Jesus is no different, and depicts just how rooted the legal agenda of Jerusalem is alive and well in Nazareth.

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: Followed-through
There comes a point in the legal agenda, however, when the serious practitioners (legalists) fail to follow through. For when, according to the Jewish agenda, the Law and Prophets (specifically here, Isaiah) dictate the results of power struggles–where the rich are to be overthrown by the poor, where the masters are to loose all control over the slaves–then, those who have set the agenda for the world (or accommodated that agenda) stand to lose out. Still, tabling the agenda is not an option. God follows through on that agenda, usually sooner than one wants or expects. “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21). That is not welcome news for fixed agenda setters, or those directed by the legal (critical) agenda.

PROGNOSIS: The Favorable Agenda

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: Taking-through
Jesus does not abandon the critical agenda, nor does he abandon the harshest critical truths about that agenda. In taking his place “under the law” (Gal. 4:4), even here by following through on the customs of the Law, Jesus sees people through the Law’s criticism. In taking the legal agenda to its maximum, even to death, Jesus brings about “the year of the Lord’s favor” (v. 19) to people who are found wanting — poor, captive, blind, and oppressed. Jesus’ credentials and basis for such power is not in God’s Law (which is hereby followed-through and trumped) but in God’s Spirit (v. 18; cf. v. 14), signaling that the New Age of God’s liberating agenda has come. This applies also to those who are the Law’s most ardent supporters–themselves found wanting — poor, captive, blind and oppressed by the world’s agenda.

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: Hearing
How this liberating agenda in Jesus becomes powerful in the lives of the formerly oppressed is through their hearing, by faith: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” The proclamation of the new life in Jesus brings about faith as that Word of liberation impacts upon all within earshot (Rom. 10:17). And in that faithful hearing, one already–here and now–has what is promised: good news, release, sight, freedom, favor!

Step 6–Final Prognosis: Praising
What else is left to do, but to join the crowds of those who go out praising wherever this new agenda is coming into play?! The praising is contagious–“everyone” is doing it, all who have been touched by the direction of Jesus. Keep it up, and it may revolutionize the way the world does its business. But how favored we are in the praising! And how favored are those who hear!


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