Epiphany 3C
Luke 4:14-21

A Liturgy is also available


Choose your words carefully if you preach to the people back home!
Those who knew you when, will remember things
        that make many messages seem odd.


What happened at Nazareth?
Why did the good, faithful, synagogue goers, many of them most likely Jesus’ cousins
and members of his immediate family,
        turn from so-called respectable citizens
        into a lynching mob, (to use an American phrase)?

What changed them from so-called admirers,
at the point where Jesus had completed the sayings from Isaiah,
        into a so-called rowdy mob seeking his death?

Just what did the storyteller we call Luke, know about this event?
Or was he taking bits of a different storytelling tradition
        and re-editing them to make his own storytellers point?

Well some of this story and comment needs to be looked at another day.
So for now, let’s stay with what we have heard.

Jesus is described as doing a very normal and
appropriate thing for a Jew of his time.
        Gathering with others on the Sabbath.

When it came time, Luke claims, Jesus stood up indicating he was prepared to read.
People with sufficient education to read could be asked to do so.

As to whether Jesus could read…
including whether he could indeed read Hebrew,
        is still seriously debated among many biblical scholars today.

As Jesus was an oral sage it is more likely he had learned by heart,
large chunks of the Hebrew scriptures.
        And most probably much of Isaiah.

Those of you who have been part of bible study groups in the past
have probably done what nearly every other student has done:
        checked out the quote from Isaiah.

And you know what?  Luke has Jesus getting it wrong!
What we have is a bit from Isaiah 61:1-2,
        a snippet from Isaiah 58:6,
        and some other bits left out.

So somewhere in the telling of it, someone, most probably Luke,
has run the two texts together because of their related themes.
        But whatever the situation, according to Luke
        it is at this point the drama begins.


OK.  With that as a kind of base statement
let me offer a very brief comment or two.

It seems to me, Luke the storyteller has placed Jesus
fair and square within the religious tradition of Israel,
        through the prophet Isaiah.

Luke's Jesus identifies himself within the Isaiah vision.
And what the prophet had foretold
was an enlarged vision of life shaped by the wisdom of God.

And Luke's Jesus understands himself
to be anointed for a ministry to the poor.

Now, doing a bit of blending ourselves
we can find there were at least two responses to this synagogue event.
        One by the kin of Jesus.
        The other by the religious authorities.

His own people, his home town people, reckon Jesus was bragging.
And because they knew all about him,
        they rejected what he had to say.

And the religious authorities also weren’t overly happy, it seems.
An option for the poor was a dangerous option,
        because the poor had always kept well heeled society, well heeled.

The poor maintained the comfortable stability of society.

So recognising the danger of those words, 
and in keeping with what Luke wanted to say about Jesus later on,
        Luke claims those same religious authorities 
        knew they must get rid of him.

But let me also make a very brief comment about ‘stories’ in general.

I am of the strong opinion this story by Luke was made up by him.
That is, while it both lacks historical foundation,
and probably did not belong to the oral tradition,
        I know it is telling something very true.

So, this is not a story about somewhere else,
or a bedtime bible story for grandparents to tell overactive children.
        Luke has Jesus suggesting:
                  This text is being acted out today in your presence
                  to be completed by you as you listen.

It is today that God, the Source and Sustainer of all that exists, acts in us.

Grant Gallup has this wonderful ‘Latin American’ commentary on this text. Let me offer some of it.
“Isaiah wrote Jesus' script that morning, just as Martin Luther King updated it and passed it on, to Archbishop Tutu, and he has passed it on to us, in prophetic and apostolic succession.

“You can't go with Jesus to the synagogue in Nazareth now.  It's not there any more.  You can't go hike from Selma to Montgomery with Dr Martin Luther King Jr., anymore...  You can't go to South Africa to face down the Devil Apartheid with Desmond Tutu anymore.  It's been done...

“But the agenda of the liberating God is written new every morning, and you will surely get your chance.”

And then Gallup suggests where our chance might be:
“With those of us who have stood up and spoken up for gay and lesbian people... With those of us who have gone to the Holy Land to stand with the people of the land against the oppression of the Israeli police and military... With those of us who stand now against the new tyranny of USA militarism and imperialism...
(Gallup Web site 2004).


The gospel stories are fair dinkum dangerous stories.
And they require those with courage to live them
        and to pass them on,
        retelling each story anew to each generation.

Retelling the stories so they are not a collection of pleasant tales
from long ago and far away
        which enables their listeners to feel
        all warm and fuzzy inside.

But as stories which relate to and touch real, raw life.  Today.
Because... someone has to go first,
        clear the cobwebs for those who follow,
        making the path safe and easy.

Someone has to lead the way.