The silence hung in the air ominously. Reports had followed this man, telling of great deeds and powerful words. His words promised hope and a future. Israel’s oppressors had been a thorn in their side for so long. Perhaps God would now free them from their chains. The men smiled, shaking their heads as the speaker proclaimed the year of the Lord’s favor. Yes, perhaps now Jubilee would be fulfilled. Each man would then be restored to the land that was rightfully his, the land God had given them, the land promised to Abraham and his descendants. The eyes of all present rested upon this man as he rolled up the scroll and handed it to the attendant.
This teacher, Jesus, had been teaching in the area of Galilee by the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14-15). The people had heard about him and the praise he had received due to his teaching (vv. 14-15). Jesus was now in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth (v. 16). A devout Jew, he customarily observed Sabbath, although this would later be a source of conflict, especially with the Pharisees. Jesus stood up to read, the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him (vv. 16-17). In his commentary on Luke, Bock states:
The Torah was always read, and often a reading from the Prophets followed. After the reading came an invitation for someone to instruct the audience. Based on texts already read or on new texts, this instruction could be done by any qualified male in the audience, provided ten males were present. Jesus stood up apparently to indicate that he could speak about a passage (403).
Although it is possible that there was a fixed reading schedule, it is most probable that Jesus chose the passage he wanted to teach from (Bock 404). As such, Luke gives us a key insight into the mission of Jesus’ ministry.
“Jesus reads a text that includes one of Isaiah’s servant prophecies (Isa. 61:1-2) and then stuns his audience by declaring it to be fulfilled in him at that very moment” (Blomberg 233). Hope swelled in the hearts of the listeners. Maybe the messiah had finally come to deliver God’s people. Could this be the Christ? How could the son of the carpenter, Joseph, be he (v. 22)? What could he possibly do against the heavy hand of the Romans? Still, one could not help but hope that a future deliverance might be possible, as in the days of the Maccabean Revolt. The people had waited for such a moment of redemption.
However, Jesus did not stop there. Blomberg points out, “He keeps on speaking and directs attention to Gentiles whom God favored over his chosen people in Old Testament times” (233). Suddenly, the audience’s anger flares. How brazen must this man be to proclaim that God’s blessings which had been intended forIsraelwould now be shared by Gentiles as well! This was beyond carelessness, it was blaspheme! Israelwas the chosen people of God. Gentiles were defiled, godless men. No, God had given the promises to Abraham and his seed, not these pigs that now desecrated the land!
The crowd pressed in on Jesus pushing him toward the cliff’s edge. There was only one way to deal with a blasphemer: death. They would hurl him off the hill to his death (v. 29). As the men moved ominously toward Jesus, he “passed through the midst of them and went on his way” (v. 30). Jesus’ words hung in the air: “Truly, I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown” (v. 24). This would not be the last time Jesus’ stance on holiness would make enemies of his listeners. Ultimately, Luke foreshadows the anger, the opposition, and the murderous intent that would conclude with Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus’ words reach beyond mere “spiritual” talk. Rather, Jesus speaks of a political reality that centers its concern on the “outsiders” of the community, including Gentiles.
Israelas a community of holiness risked defilement from the penetrating forces of Roman society. To think Jubilee was applicable to these outsiders was beyond bizarre, it was heretical. Didn’t Jesus realize, as did the Maccabees, that they must purify themselves of this evil, desecrating culture? “Holiness was understood primarily as entailing separation. Just as the holiness of God was understood to be God’s separation from all that defiles, so the holiness of Israel, living by an imitatio dei, meant separation” (Borg 67). The Jews understood that Isaiah had clearly been speaking to the Jews returning from the Exile. Jesus had manipulated the text in favor of the enemy. That could only mean one thing, Jesus was an enemy.
However, for Jesus, the pursuit of holiness as a community extended beyond the boundaries of the Jews. As was promised toAbraham, Israelwould be a blessing to all nations (Gen. 12:3). Redemption would be available to all. God’s kingdom was breaking into the world in a pervasive way. God’s love would be available to the outsider. In a sense, the outsider had become the insider. God’s blessings were not relegated to the rich, the upwardly mobile, and the “holy.” Rather, God’s plan was available to the poor, the broken, the outcast, the weak, and the sinner. God’s love was not bound by race and nationality. Redemption was available toIsrael, as well as,Israel’s enemies.
As in the year of Jubilee, forgiveness of debts would set the captives free. This goes beyond a “health and wealth” Gospel of prosperity. Rather, it was the establishment of God’s kingdom as a present and future reality. The broken systems of oppression in whichIsraelhad become entrenched would be replaced by the holiness of God’s love and compassion. This was a marked move towards living out holiness through social justice. The pursuit of holiness did not neglect ritual observances. Yet, holiness moved beyond the scope of mere ritualistic fulfillment of Torah. Jesus asserted the sanctity of life and relationship. A holiness community could no longer neglect these vital aspects of life, which entailed socio-economic realities.
This new kingdom does not end with the ministry of Jesus. Rather, Jesus set thekingdomofGodinto motion, modeling what that kingdom would and should look like in his followers. Yoder quotes Blosser, saying, “The Jubilee is not simply a theological concept providing insight into the nature of God; it is a guide for living which is to be observed in normal daily practice among believers” (74).
Luke’s “theological bibliography” was written for a man, Theophilus, and quite possibly a community of believers (Blomberg 107; Luke 1:3). This writing was undertaken by Luke so that there would be an “orderly account” and “so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed” (Luke 1:3-4). As such, Luke’s account of Jesus’ preaching atNazarethlooked to establish Jesus’ mission and thus the mission of the Christian community to which the Gospel was addressed. Luke, a Gentile physician, had experienced redemption and acceptance into thekingdomofGod. This was the legacy Luke wished to impart to his readers. Holiness, as exemplified by Jubilee, must be the modus operandi of Jesus’ followers.
Blomberg, Craig L. Jesus and the Gospels.Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1997.
Borg, Marcus J. Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus.Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1998.
Harrelson, Walter J., Donald Senior, and Abraham Smith, eds. The New Interpreter’s Study Bible : New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha.New York: Abingdon P, 2005.
Yoder, John Howard. The Politics of Jesus 2nd Ed.Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994.