January 22, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 4:14-21 (NRSV)
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 favor.”
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.”
You can read all of Luke 4 here.
Spiritual gifts are given for the Christian community, Paul tells us. The story of Jesus’s ministry makes clear that they are not given for the Christian community to sit still and congratulate itself. They are given for mission and for ministry, and there is no promise that ministry will be easy.
As we have journeyed through Jesus’s ministry in the weeks of the Season after Epiphany, we have pondered his baptism and his first public miracle at the wedding at Cana. Commentators will often tell you that this wedding occurred before Jesus began his “public ministry.” While we need to acknowledge, as we did in discussing Jesus’s baptism, that the thirty years he spent as an obscure carpenter were another kind of ministry, we also need to acknowledge that there’s a break in the Gospels between those thirty years and the last three. At the wedding at Cana, though Jesus performs the miracle of changing water into wine, he also tells his mother that his “time has not yet come” (John 2:4).
How are we to know when Jesus’s time has come? Honestly, it’s a bit harder to tell than you might think, because, despite the very public witness of his baptism and of the passage we’re about to consider in Luke 4, Jesus seems about half the time to be telling those he talks to and heals that they should not let the news get out yet (although it invariably does anyway). I’ve talked before about how the inbreaking of the Kingdom is both “already” and “not yet,” and that pattern actually begins in Jesus’s own ministry.
Today, however, as befits a season of epiphanies, we have an “already” Gospel. Fresh from (as Luke tells us) his baptism and his temptation in the wilderness, and (as John tells us) his kind-of-public miracle at Cana, Jesus begins to preach throughout his home area of Galilee. When he gets to his hometown synagogue to do this, he announces to the assembled crowd—most of whom think of him as a kid in diapers and as Joseph’s young apprentice much more than they think of him as a preacher filled with the Holy Spirit—that he fulfills one of Isaiah’s greatest Messianic prophecies. (We can read that prophecy in Isaiah 61:1-2, and we talked about Isaiah’s response to it in Advent 2021 and 2020).
Sometimes preachers treat this story as if it was the first time Jesus said all this. But we don’t actually know that. For all we know, he had repeated this statement of his mission in every synagogue he had been to. What was different this time was the reaction. The lectionary for this Sunday doesn’t continue the story, but if you keep reading, in Luke 4:22 the crowd reacts with surprise.
“Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they say. (Matthew 13:55-58, which also tells this story, adds that they mentioned they knew his mother and all his siblings as well.) Rather than soothe their ruffled feathers, by either calling them special by virtue of being his hometown or by saying he didn’t really mean all that, Jesus points out to his old neighbors that there were a number of times in the story of the Hebrew people when God’s prophets were sent, not to God’s expected people, but to outsiders.
This angers them so much that they run him out of the synagogue, out of town, and even try to throw him off a cliff. (You can read the whole story in Luke 4:23-30). Yet he is mysteriously preserved, passing through them by some unexplained miracle and going on his way. (It’s always interested me that this story directly follows the temptation story wherein Luke 4:9-11 Jesus is asked to throw himself off the temple just for show so that angels will protect him. For show? No. But when he is really in danger, perhaps yes.)
This story has many profound facets. But today the facet I want to pick up is connected to the points we made about spiritual gifts yesterday. Spiritual gifts are given for the Christian community, Paul tells us. The story of Jesus’s ministry makes clear that they are not given for the Christian community to sit still and congratulate itself. They are given for mission and for ministry—the ministry of all the baptized—and there is no promise that ministry will be easy. But there is a promise that, when ministry is hard, our Lord Jesus Christ will bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and will let the oppressed go free.
How does Jesus’s speech in Luke 4 challenge you?
How does it comfort you?
How can you build up the Body of Christ for mission and ministry?
Many great hymns of the church are based on the Isaiah 61:1-2 passage that Jesus uses here to point to himself. One of my very favorites is “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed.” You can find the lyrics here. Listen and ask Jesus how you can follow him in doing things like these:
He comes with succor speedy
to those who suffer wrong;
to help the poor and needy,
and bid the weak be strong;
to give them songs for sighing,
their darkness turn to light,
whose souls, condemned and dying,
are precious in his sight.
(P.S. I love the way this church, neither large nor famous, worships through this hymn with gusto—especially the piano player.)
Lord, may I always be your hands and feet in the world to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. And may I never get in your way. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Blessed Are Those Who Mourn
Subscribe to Life for Leaders
Sign up to receive a Life for Leaders devotional each day in your inbox. It’s free to subscribe and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Jennifer Woodruff Tait (PhD, Duke University) is the editor of and frequent contributor to Life for Leaders. She is also the managing editor of Christian History magazine and web editor for the Theology of Work Project, and a priest in the Episcopal Church. She has written a book of poetry, Histories of Us. Jennifer lives in Berea, Kentucky, with her husband, Edwin, and their two daughters.
Click here to view Jennifer’s profile.