Luke 4:14-21

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

While I would normally recommend telling the whole story both weeks, this inevitably would focus attention on the puzzle of the people's rage at Jesus. Jesus' citation of Isaiah, which is his reading of the scroll, reflects the traditions of the synagogue. The outline of the service in a traditional first century synagogue service was a gathering. The readings from the scriptures—a Torah reading followed by a reading from the prophets—and then the benedictions or prayers, a conclusion by the overseer of the synagogue and a benediction. If there was a rabbi present, there would be a sermon after the reading of the scriptures. This story reflects that custom. Jesus stands up to read the Scriptures and then sits down to interpret the scriptures, which is a reflection of the order and the process of ancient synagogue worship.

The actual reading in Luke 4 is a conflation of three different passages from Second Isaiah. They are quotations from the Greek version of Isaiah rather than from the Hebrew text. Luke has conflated these so that they have a rhythm that is not present in the actual text of Isaiah. The order of those to whom Jesus (by implication) is sent begins with "the poor." He is sent to proclaim good news to the poor. Good news to the poor means good news to Israel. "Poor" was a frequent synonym for an Israelite. In the first century most Israelites were poor because of the rates of taxation that the Romans imposed upon them, so they identified themselves as "the poor."

"The imprisoned" probably refers to debtors prison; that is, to people who were thrown into prison because of indebtedness. This was another instance of the oppressive character of the Roman economic system as it was experienced in provinces such as Palestine.

The third group to which Jesus is sent is "the blind." He is sent to give sight to the blind. This is on the one hand a literal task that Jesus accomplishes by giving sight to blind people. Thus, there are several stories in the gospels about Jesus giving sight to a blind person. The classic instances are the story of Bartimaeus (Mark 10) and the man born blind (John 9).

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