Saturday, January 16, 2016

The year of the Lord's favor

The gospel text for the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany of our Lord, Luke 4:14-21, is the first half of what is often called, "The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth."  The remarkable thing is that nowhere in this first half of the story is there any indication of rejection.  At the outset we hear that Jesus is returning from his wilderness sparring with the devil "filled with the power of the Holy Spirit" and that he is "praised by everyone."  And even in the first verse following our pericope, it is reported that his listeners "all speak well of him and were amazed at his gracious words."  Rejection?  Hardly, at least not in this first half of the story.

(The following questions are meant to highlight the issues of law and gospel, essential for preachers who are committed to making this distinction.  More about this way of preaching may be found in my guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available through or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  Jesus is the Word here.  Jesus is the Word proclaiming gospel news - nothing else.  He is announcing that He is the Anointed One, the One who announces good news, who gives sight to the blind and lets the oppressed go free.  In a word, Jesus is the Messiah!  Today, says Jesus, "God's word has been fulfilled."

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is no word of law here, nothing that exposes our need for Christ.  That will come in the second half of this story - in next week's gospel reading. It might be interesting for the preacher to explore the human reaction when someone proclaims they are the Anointed One.  Do we immediately accept this?  Is skepticism or unbelief natural?  Or are we likely to be drawn to such a person?

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?   We are certainly in the position of "all in the synagogue."  We gather for worship regularly.  We regard ourselves as God's people.  We think we are in tune with God's way of thinking.  But are we?

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The call to obedience is the part of the text which invites us to live in response to God's work. The ongoing reading from 1 Corinthians 12, which is the second lesson for the day, is an excellent example of a call to obedience.  There we are invited to regard each member of the body of Christ as essential.  In this gospel reading the Word does not function as a call to obedience.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Some of the words in the text suggest several helpful couplets:  oppressed/set free; captive/released; blind/seeing; unfavored/favored by God.

6.  Exegetical work:  I often find it enlightening to read what the earliest scholars of the Church, as well as Reformation scholars, have said about a passage.  Collections of this commentary are available in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (ACCS) and the Reformation Commentary on Scripture (RCS), both published by IV Press.  About today's text, for example, the 3rd century scholar, Origen wrote, "[Jesus] says, 'He sent me to preach the gospel to the poor.'  The 'poor' stand for the Gentiles, for they are indeed poor. They possess nothing at all; neither God, nor the law, nor the prophets, nor justice and the rest of the virtues.... 'To preach release to the captives.' We were the captives.  For many years Satan had bound us and held us captive and subject to himself.... 'To preach an acceptable year to the Lord.'  But all of this has been proclaimed so that we may come to 'the acceptable year of the Lord,' when we see after blindness, when we are free from our chains, and when we have been healed of our wounds.'" (ACCS, NT, III, 80-81)  Also, John Calvin writes, "It is certain that what is related here belongs properly to Christ alone for two reasons: first, because he alone was given the fullness of the Spirit, so that he would be our witness and the representative of our reconciliation with God... and second, because he, alone, by the power of his Spirit, brings about and performs all the good things promised here.  (RCS, NT, III, 100)

Blessings on your proclamation!

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