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Epiphany First Sunday

Season of Epiphany

First Sunday: Luke 4:16-22a
JESUS IS THE LIBERATOR

INTRODUCTION

This section is the mission statement of Jesus based on the prophecy of Isaiah (61:1–2). Jesus made this announcement in the synagogue of his hometown, Nazareth. His listeners got amazed when they heard that Isaiah’s prophecy on the Messiah was fulfilling in Jesus. The message of Jesus was of immense joy for the afflicted than for the self-righteous. He announced a Year of Jubilee that the ordinary and oppressed people were looking forward.

BIBLE TEXT

(Luke 4:16) When Jesus came to Nazareth where he had been brought up, he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath as he usually did. (17) He stood up to read and they handed him the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. Jesus then unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written: (18) The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and sight to the blind; to free the oppressed (19) and to announce the Lord’s year of mercy. (20) Jesus then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down, while the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. (21) Then he said to them, “Today these words of Scripture have come true even as you listen.” (22) All were impressed by him and were lost in wonder at the gracious words he spoke.

INTERPRETATION

(16) When Jesus came to Nazareth where he had been brought up, he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath as he usually did.

Nazareth
During the ministry of Jesus, Nazareth was a small, hilly, and fertile village 12 miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee. Though Hellenistic (Greek) culture was widespread in Galilee, this village remained conservative, keeping all Jewish beliefs and traditions. People spoke Aramaic language that was the modern version of Hebrew. Aramaic borrowed many words and phrases from Babylonian and other languages. This happened because of the Jewish exile in Babylon for seven decades. Jesus also spoke Aramaic. 

Nazareth, where he had grown up
Jesus lived in Nazareth with his parents for around 27 years. The divine choice of Nazareth for Jesus’ private life was another sign of his humility because that village was unpopular, and it had no reference in the Old Testament or in the Rabbinic literature. That was why Nathaniel asked Philip, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46). The only good that came out of Nazareth was the popularity of Jesus as Jesus of Nazareth or the Nazarene. The inscription Pilate posted on Jesus’ cross was: “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.”

He came to Nazareth
Before coming to his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus preached for a year in Galilee that included Nazareth. But he did not enter there because he knew that his own natives would reject him. Instead, he moved to Capernaum and returned later in the synagogue of Nazareth. The people there rejected him and attempted to kill him by throwing him off a hill (Luke 4:29).

Went according to his custom into the synagogue on the Sabbath day.
Jesus used to attend synagogue services regularly, even though he disagreed with some irrelevant Jewish practices. His parents made sure that they followed every Jewish practice in Jesus’ life. They circumcised Jesus on the eighth day (Luke 2:21) and presented him in the Temple on the 40th day (Luke 2:22-40). When the Evangelist Luke documented the finding of the missed child Jesus in the Temple at 12, he wrote: “Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover.” (Luke 2:41).

(17) He stood up to read and they handed him the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. Jesus then unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written:

Prophet Isaiah
The Book of Isaiah is famous for Messianic prophesies. They include the announcement of his coming (Isaiah 40:3–5), his virgin birth (7:14), his proclamation of the good news (61:1-3), his sacrificial death (52:13–53:12), and his return to claim His own (60:2–3). So, Jesus read from the Book of Isaiah either by divine providence, or because the synagogue attendant wanted to know how Jesus would interpret Isaiah’s prophesies. The public in Capernaum had already understood Jesus as the Messiah before his reading of this passage in Nazareth.

Isaiah prophesied during the reign of Judean kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah (Isaiah 1:1) and died under the evil King Manasseh. Isaiah must have lived in Jerusalem (Isaiah 1:1). He prophesied from 739 to 681 B.C. to the southern kingdom of Judea that turned away from God. The Assyrians had taken the northern kingdom of Israel into captivity in 722 B.C. The kingdom of Judah was in spiritual turmoil because of their idolatry and sinful life. Assyrians and the uprising of Babylonians were threatening the southern kingdom.

According to Prophet Isaiah, God made use of the pagan nations and their captivity as instruments to discipline the sinful Israel. However, Isaiah gave the people hope that the promised Messiah would come to establish the golden age of peace and prosperity. The literal meaning of Isaiah is “Yahweh saves.” His name and message are the same as of Joshua and Jesus, who were also instruments of God’s saving power.

He unrolled the scroll.
During Jesus’s time, the books were scrolls rolled around a cylinder from the beginning to the end. Therefore, Jesus unrolled it to read.

(18) The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and sight to the blind; to free the oppressed.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.
Jesus received the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove during his baptism (Luke 3:22). Later he sent the same Spirit upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost in the form of flames of fire to empower them for the continuation of his mission in this world (Acts 2:1-4). We have also received the same Spirit of God at the time of our baptism and other sacraments.

He has anointed me .
God anointed the prophets who were his spokespersons. Isaiah prophesied Messiah as an anointed prophet like Elijah and Elisha. At the time of his baptism, the Holy Spirit anointed Jesus. So, Jesus has the title Messiah, which means anointed. As Christians, we also share in the prophetic role of Jesus because we also got anointed at the time of baptism and confirmation (chrismation).

To bring glad tidings to the poor / afflicted
Luke gives importance to Jesus’ approach for the welfare of the economically and socially poor. Afflicted is the term used in the Book of Isaiah instead of the poor. Jesus said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours.” (Luke 6:20). The poor got enriched by accepting Jesus’ message. The Pharisees and Scribes despised the lowliness and poverty of Jesus. So, those proud people could not receive the glad tidings of Jesus; while those they hated and made poor received him with joy.

The Jews considered the public sinners, the poor, the depressed, and the sick among them as afflicted. They also counted the Gentiles who were unaware of the true God, the Law, and the prophets in the same category. Jesus touched and healed them all.

To bind up the broken hearted
Isaiah 61:1 predicts that the Messiah would come “to bind up the broken hearted.” Jesus’ mission was to restore the broken hearted. People were depressed because of their sins and ignorance of God’s mercy. The Jewish elite have overburdened them with manmade laws. When God sent Adam out of the garden of Eden, he was heartbroken. Jesus came down to the children of Adam to heal their broken heartedness. Jesus broke his heart on the cross to mend our broken hearts.

Recovery of sight to the blind
Jesus gave sight to all the blind who approached him for help. However, his prime mission was to recover the sight of those who were spiritually blind because of their ignorance or misunderstanding of God and his Law. The Jewish leaders were blind leading the blind (Matthew 15:14).

To free the oppressed
Isaiah’s prophecy of freedom from oppression was not political freedom from foreign rulers. It was liberation from the captivity of Satan and his snares that make people sin against God. Jesus physically and spiritually liberated many from demon possession and sickness. His ultimate mission was to strike the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15) who caused the fall of mankind and who continues to keep them aloof from God.

(19) And to announce the Lord’s year of mercy.

Jesus declared a Jubilee Year in the synagogue. That is the time to restore everything the people had lost. At the Jubilee Year, all Israelites who sold themselves as slaves or those who lost their land could get them back unconditionally. So, the Jubilee Year brought joy for the afflicted and gained them their lost freedom and prosperity. Through the Jubilee Year proclamation, Jesus introduced God’s Year of Mercy. 

The day of vengeance of our God
Isaiah 61:2 continues, “to announce the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God; to give comfort to all who mourn,” Jesus avoided reading, “the day of vengeance of our God” because the day of the Lord’s vengeance would happen only at his second coming to judge the people.

(20) Jesus then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down, while the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.

The synagogue attendees looked intently on Jesus because they were wondering how Jesus would comment on the verses he read. They knew that the passage he read was on the prophecy of the Messiah. Since Jesus was already famous in Capernaum, the people in Nazareth were waiting to hear directly from Jesus his claim of Messiahship. They disagreed on it because they knew Jesus from his childhood.

(21) Then he said to them, “Today these words of Scripture have come true even as you listen.”

Instead of announcing his Messiahship, Jesus implied that in this saying. The ministry of Jesus fulfilled the long-awaited prophecy of Isaiah. So far, Jesus was doing what the prophets foretold about him. He made his official declaration of Messiahship in the synagogue of his hometown.

(22) All were impressed by him and were lost in wonder at the gracious words he spoke.

Jesus’ speech and its graciousness astonished the listeners. They had never heard him speak with such conviction and openness.

MESSAGE

1. Joseph and Mary were practicing Jews who took Jesus regularly to the synagogue. Jesus continued that practice when he became an adult. We need to train our children to practice religion, so it becomes habitual for them.

2. Jesus practiced what he preached. Even before he announced his mission statement that Isaiah had prophesied, Jesus practiced that at Capernaum. Let us practice what we believe and teach.

3. Jesus came as a liberator of the afflicted. God called us as followers of Jesus to care for the afflicted. Jesus will base his last judgement on how we imitate Jesus in taking care of them.

4. John the Baptist, like prophets of the past, was a preacher of doom aiming to people’s repentance. However, Jesus’ message was uplifting, optimistic, and affectionate. We should follow Jesus’ style in serving others.

5. If we have affliction for any reason, Jesus is our physician. The Satan continues to lead and keep us in bondages like unhealthy habits, rejection of God, materialism, or selfishness. Jesus can liberate us from such deviations.