Lesson 4 –
Luke 4:14-21 NRSV
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
16 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, 17 and 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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 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. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
This vignette fully solidifies Jesus as a Jew who knows, respects, and adds to the tradition. Much like its literary cousin, the Book of Acts, the Holy Spirit features as a prominent character, animating much of the activity inside. The fourth chapter of Luke is full of twists and turns in Jesus’ ministry. Readers are left to wonder how one person might respond to this vocational rollercoaster. In your own devotional period, read the entire fourth chapter. How would you describe the world that Jesus finds himself in?
Today’s lesson will focus on loving your tradition enough to challenge it.
Read the scripture out loud together. What’s happening in this passage?
Jesus is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. In Galilee, people were talking about him and his actions. He was popular enough to be teaching in various synagogues. His message was well received. But when he came to Nazareth, his hometown, he had a different experience.
In line with the custom of the synagogue, he stood up to read a portion of the prophetic text, Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the part that says the Spirit has sent him to bring “good news to the poor,” “proclaim release to the captives,” heal the excluded and free the oppressed. All this will be done to “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus rolls the scroll back up, gives it to the synagogue attendant and sits down. Everyone in the room stares at him, and he says, “Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Why focus on Isaiah?
Isaiah is a sacred text to Jesus’ people. It is full of prophetic visions for God’s people. Just check out Isaiah 40 when you get a chance! It is full of poetic words about God’s hope for things to be set the right side up. Jesus intentionally cites this passage because it is already a beloved and familiar passage within his own community. He does not introduce a new line of thought. Jesus demonstrates his knowledge, familiarity, and expertise in the tradition by engaging this text. Think about how you feel when you hear a new song sampling a song from your childhood. You might turn it up on the radio and say, “Now wait a minute, I know this song!”
What might the witnesses of this scene be thinking or feeling?
In this passage and this chapter more broadly, we get the sense that Jesus is becoming famous. People are sharing the news about the things Jesus can do and has done. It
might even be bordering on gossip. By the time Jesus reaches his hometown, the people have mixed reviews about him. Later in this chapter, the people will go from “speaking well of him,” to asking, “is this Joseph’s son,” to being “filled with rage” to driving him out of the town nearly over a cliff.
Why do you think the people have such strong reactions to Jesus’ presence?
What questions do you still have of this scripture? How will you commit to journeying with this text this week?
Connection to Today’s World
Hiplet is a new dance style from Chicago. It combines elements of ballet and hip hop. The dancers from the Chicago Multicultural Dance Center went viral after videos of dancers amassed thousands of views on social media. Dancers in the style still wear traditional ballet dance. Creator Homer Han Bryant argues that the style was invented to “stay relevant with young people.”
There are some critics of the style, citing that the style lacks a clear ballet or hip hop element. But for both critics and fans of the style, it is true that the dancers are having a fun time and getting permission to dance in new and authentic ways. This new style has inspired many young Black and Brown people to think about dance. Ballet, of course, is a style of dance that has historically excluded Black people. There are multiple horror stories of ballet instructors embarrassing Black students for hair, body size, or the color of their tights (which usually do not match a diversity of skin tones).
What do you think? What is your opinion about a whole new dance style emerging in front of your eyes?
Journal: What has the Christian tradition taught you? What do you want to teach the Christian tradition?
Closing: Listen to Mahalia Jackson, (Give Me That) Old Time Religion
You are the God of our ancestors. You are the God of Miriam, the Hebrew children, Paul and Silas, Dr. King, Cicely Tyson, Andre Talley, Mrs. Phillis Taylor, Dr. Henry Mitchell and so many more.
We sometimes forget that You are eternal. We forget that You have seen generations of people through highs and lows.
Help us to tap into the legacies left for us. Help us to read our ancestors’ stories and struggles as foundational for our own. Convict us when we want to throw previous collections of wisdom away without deeper exploration. Show us, when we feel lonely, that someone has been here before. Teach us how to build upon the good things and learn from the challenges.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.