Lectio Divina: 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (C)
Jesus presents the programme of His mission
in the community of Nazareth
Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
1. Opening prayer
Lord, let the light of Your glory shine within us
and lead us through the darkness of this world
to the radiant joy of our eternal home.
We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.
a) The text:
Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received. Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all. He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing."
A brief introductory summary presents Jesus’ activity, His person, and the scene of this Gospel (Lk 4:14-21) takes place in the synagogue in Nazareth on a Saturday. Jesus’ return to the place from where His fame had spread everywhere in the region of Galilee and to which the Spirit led His steps has a special signifigance. In concise terms, Luke tries to give a salvific interpretation to it by shedding light on the salient aspects of the events. Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue signifies His Jewish origin and His wish to be part of the culture so as to emphasize the vital role of the law that God had entrusted to His people and to offer Himself as fulfillment and hope of Israel.
To the question implied in the narrative - Is Jesus a prophet? - the answer becomes clearer according to the criteria of discernment used by Israel to verify whether a prophet was sent by Yahweh or not: is his teaching in accordance with the teachings of the law, do his works correspond with God’s commandments, do his prophecies concerning the future come true? In Nazareth, Jesus presents Himself as a prophet – in fact He compares Himself to Elijah and Elisha – even though He does not define Himself as such in keeping with His custom that avoids any attempt at defining Himself.
c) A moment of silence:
Let us allow the voice of the Word to resonate within us.
a) Some questions:
- To consider carefully every circumstance: are we always in a hurry during our day? Do we really wish to reflect carefully on what happens to us?
- He sent me to proclaim the good news to the poor: do I always think of the poor as the others, while I belong to the haves and those who know, and consequently, I do not need anyone?
- Today this scripture has been fulfilled: what scripture do we know so well as to recognize it as incarnation in our day?
b) A key to the reading:
A historical contextualization
The passage of the synagogue of Nazareth is part of an approach that will later form the key to the reading to what follows in Luke’s Gospel. The reference to the prophet Isaiah is basic because therein is revealed the continuity of the human history of God. Jesus’ gestures, placed in parallel, “He stood and opened the scroll” (v.17), “He closed the scroll and sat down” (v.20), give the narrative a liturgical character that is customary yet new.
The newness occurs in the homily that renders the prophecy present. Today, a key word in Luke, expresses the fulfillment in Christ of God’s purpose. The immediate reactions to this today are of surprise and unbelief, of wonder and scandal, even to rejection already found in the question that follows Jesus’ proclamation, a question hanging in the air without an answer: “Is this not the son of Joseph?” (v. 22). The contrast with the Word proclaimed by a man who is imbued with the Spirit of the Lord, consecrated by an anointing, sent on a special mission of messianic character: to bring the good news, to forgive, to proclaim…creates a conflict of identity.
A literary contextualization
This passage does not have precise parallels in the synoptic Gospels. Jesus’ visit to Nazareth in Matthew 13:53-58 and in Mark 6:1-6a is limited to a question concerning Jesus’ origin and His rejection. There is no description of the rite in the synagogue nor is there a record of the words Jesus pronounced and of the interpretation of the present fulfillment of the sacred Word. The only point in common is the rejection of Jesus by the Nazarenes.
Through Jesus’ discourse in Nazareth, Luke wants to introduce and shed light on the whole public ministry of Jesus. Isaiah 61:1-2 contains a synthesis of the great themes that characterize Luke’s Gospel and those most dear to him: the Holy Spirit, the messianic anointing, the eschatological liberation, the messianic joy, the divine intervention in favor of the poor and oppressed, the proclamation of the year of grace. The program is inaugurated in Mark with the proclamation: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:14-15) and in Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5: 1-48), appears in Luke at the center of the Jewish belief: that which is fulfilled is not the time but the scripture. The reader is invited to see the necessity of “walking” with Christ and to imitate Him on the way of conformity to the will of the Father. Jerusalem, the end of a long journey (Lk 9:51-18,14) that leads Jesus towards the decisive moment of His life, is also the final point of His earthly mission (Lk 24) and the beginning of the life of the newborn Church (Acts 1-2).
In this passage, we can see a slight literary unity. The editorial intervention of Luke that begins from traditional data follows its own purpose. The unitary design of both parts shows internal clarity and accurate external delimitation. For Luke, the two fields of questioning are inseparable: Who is Jesus? To whom is His work addressed? The relationship between word and action is very strong, the dramatic action of a proclamation that takes place in life. This passage wants to introduce the public ministry of Jesus, almost enabling Him to act on the confines of His belonging to Israel. The Spirit abundantly given to Jesus: at His birth (1:35), at His baptism (3:22), during the temptations (4:1) at the beginning of His mission (4:14) is the Spirit mentioned in Isaiah (v.18) who makes God’s action explicit. An action without ethnic limits and that does not seek notoriety, but that is in favor of those in need of salvation: the poor, prisoners, the blind, the oppressed, and to begin the time of grace of the Lord. We pass from a culture of the synagogue that is not capable of welcoming the ancient Word fulfilled in the today, to a culture of following on the roads of the world. Jesus goes off. He follows His way, that from Jerusalem will lead Him to the ends of the earth through His followers
Detailed analysis of the text
A detailed analysis of the verses of this passage will reveal important peculiarities, which, within a historical framework, present in the Nazareth synagogue scene a synthesis of the content of the Gospel.
v.16: It seems that the synagogue was a place frequented by Jesus. It is here that from His early adulthood He has heard the Word of God and has interpreted it according to the living tradition of the people. It is significant that Jesus seeks out the centers of worship. Every adult Jew could read the word, generally the leaders of the synagogue entrusted this task to those who were experts in Scripture. The fact that Jesus gets up to read shows that it was customary for Him to do so as it was customary for Him to attend the synagogue. The words: “as was His custom” lend great force to the verse almost as though the one who reads and speaks is not just anyone, but a son of Israel expert in the reading and interpretation of the Torah and the prophets. Christian faith then is born from faithful representatives of the people of Israel whose time of waiting has come to fulfillment. All the main characters in Luke are authentic Israelites: Zachary, Elizabeth and John, Mary, Joseph and Jesus, the apostles, and later in Acts, Paul. This is “a custom” that carries with it something new. The synagogue is the place where the proclamation begins and spreads to the cities of Judah and Galilee and the whole of Israel, even to the ends of the earth.
vv. 17-19: Jesus finds the passage in Isaiah 61:1-2 which probably refers to the consecration of a prophet (cf. 1 Kg 19:16). Luke leaves out from the citation from Isaiah the menacing end because it is of no interest to his purpose: he emphasizes that Jesus’ teaching has its roots in scripture (17-19; 25-27) and makes it present in His own person. Isaiah’s words on His lips acquire their full meaning and summarize His mission (cf 4:1), full of the Spirit, anointed by the Lord, sent to proclaim the good news to the poor, freedom to prisoners and those oppressed, sight to the blind and to preach the time of grace of the Lord.
v. 20: The detailed description of the gestures foreshadows what is to come. Jesus speaks while sitting, the typical position of one who teaches. The eyes of the people turned towards Him prepare us for the importance of what He is about to say. His is a short but disturbing homily. The movements show the character of this passage from Luke. Jesus came, He went in, He stood up, He sat down, He passed among them, He went away. The Nazarenes too rise but it is to throw Him out. The contrast is clear. Jesus stands up to read, the men stand up to send Him away. The waiting described in this verse, “The eyes of all in the synagogue were gazing on Him,” degenerates into a rejection. The problem is not the proclamation, already well known and source of hope for devout Israelites, but the one who proclaims it and makes it His own.
v. 21: Jesus does not make any comments on the words of Isaiah, but He makes them present. His is a word event - rhêma - (Acts 10:37), a word that is salvation now. The prophecy comes alive and is taking place. Jesus’ interpretation goes beyond every expectation. In the Word, the today is present, the today that is typical of the Evangelist and that is the today of salvation, the today of the fulfillment that comes from listening (cf Rom 10:17). What is essential for Luke is listening. The realization of the ancient promises repeated in the whole of Luke’s works (Lk 9:51; Acts 2:1; 19:21) is for those who listen: the anawim, the poor, the oppressed, those favored by Jhwh (Is 11:4; 29:19) and now those favored by Jesus (Mt 11:28).
The exegesis made by Jesus Himself on Isaiah 61 is an example of actualization that reveals the messianic present and has recourse to scripture passages to shed light on the present situation. Christ’s is a creative authority that invites people to adapt their lives to the message, accepting the Anointed of God and renouncing the presumption of reducing Him to their dimension. This pragmatic perspective is the key to actualization in every age: the today of salvation echoes wherever there is preaching, so is the welcoming and the commitment.
In the synagogue of Nazareth, we find the fundamental answers of human beings who live in expectation of meeting with salvation. Jesus is sent by God and is sustained by the Spirit. The anointing says that He is the Christ. In Him scripture is fulfilled. He is the today of God who fulfills past history now come to maturation in Jesus and will turn into the daily today of tomorrow that is the time of the Church, it too sent as prophetic Word, sustained by the Spirit.
The main message found in this passage of Luke is the scripture. The scripture contains the whole of God’s secret who lives in eternity and who becomes one of us.
Psalm 2: 6-9
"I myself have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain."
I will proclaim the decree of the Lord,
who said to me, "You are my son;
today I am your father.
Only ask it of Mme,
and I will make your inheritance the nations,
your possession the ends of the earth.
With an iron rod you shall shepherd them,
like a clay pot you will shatter them."
Today: this the key word in my daily life. In this today the Scripture is fulfilled. In this today Christ goes into the synagogue of my convictions to proclaim the good news to the poverty of my thought, to my feelings that are prisoners of that desire built on the ruins of grey days stretched from hour to hour, to my vision obscured by my all too short-sightedness. A year of grace, of conversion, of blessing. Lord, may my today be Yours so that not one of Your words may fall in vain in my life, but that Your words may be fulfilled as grains of wheat in the frozen furrow of the past, capable of budding at the first signs of spring.