Uniform 05.11.2014: Going Home

Luke 4:14-21

When we think of the word “home,” some of us picture a place of welcome, comfort, and familiarity. We may imagine a certain house or room, or we may think of the people who make that house a home for us. For others, the word “home” brings up terrible memories connected to a place in which we were hurt by the ones we trusted the most. Whatever “home” means to each of us, we all long for a place of safety where we feel free to be who we truly are, to let loose, to get comfy—a place where we don’t have to worry about impressing anyone because we are assured that the people there already love us unconditionally.

But what’s it really like to go home? I vividly remember one of my early trips back home after I went away to college. A journal entry from that time conveys my feelings: “I am an alien in my own house. My room at home no longer belongs to me; I am nothing but a guest to fill the empty bed beside my sister’s. I can see that my family has completely adjusted to life without me. Do they miss me? Does my absence ever startle them or gnaw on their minds? When I visit home, it is simultaneously as if I have never left and as if I never lived there to begin with.”

From my vantage point, I can see a lot of teenage melodrama in that entry. But at the time, those feelings were real and true and very intense. I had not yet chosen a career, but I had definitely stepped away from what was welcoming, comfortable, and familiar. I had moved on to a new place that offered me a chance to fulfill my wide-open hopes and dreams. My personality was changing, my spiritual life was being challenged, and my desire to do something different was growing. When I visited home after being away at college, I wasn’t the same person I had been when I first left.

What’s it really like to go home? For Jesus, home was anything but a place of welcome, comfort, and familiarity. He, too, had changed. Those hometown folks saw him coming and expected the carpenter’s apprentice whose dad had made all their furniture. They looked for Mary’s golden boy, the one who rarely got in trouble, always made honor roll, and set a fine example for their own sons. But that’s not who they got. Jesus came back “to Nazareth, where he had been brought up” (Lk 4:16), and he read to his people from the Scriptures as if he had something personal to do with those holy words! They all knew the prophecy of Isaiah—some knew it by heart—and suddenly, here was Jesus, acting as if it applied specifically to him.

If we read just beyond our lesson text in Luke, we see that, at first, the group looked around at each other and nodded their heads. They smiled at Jesus and thought to themselves, Would you listen to him? He’s brilliant. Yep, that’s our boy! They “spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth” (Lk 4:22). But when he pointed out their smug attitudes (vv. 23-27), they quickly changed their minds. It wasn’t long before these hometown folks—the ones who’d seen Jesus toddle around, play games with their kids, and follow the Scriptures through his teenage years—drove him out and even tried to “hurl him off the cliff” (v. 29).

What’s it really like to go home? If you’re lucky, maybe you’ve reached the point where going home is comfortable once more. I’ve reached that point, and I’m glad. Going back was rocky for a long time, and the place where I grew up will never really be “home” again now that I’m an adult with a home of my own. But I’ve moved past the point where I’m unsure of who I am. I can visit my hometown with confidence and feel fairly certain that no one will reject me.

What about Jesus? The Bible emphasizes that I am now the temple of Christ, and he lives within me (1 Cor 6:19; Gal 2:20). Is he at home with me? Is my spirit a place where he feels welcome, comfortable, and familiar? Can I accept his authority along with his love and grace? Or am I ready to drive him out and maybe even hurl him off a cliff?

Discussion

1. If you have moved away from the place where you grew up, what’s it like when you visit your hometown? How do people receive you? Do you ever feel like an outsider?
2. If you have not moved away from your hometown, what’s it like when others come back after being gone for a long time? How do people receive them? Do they seem like outsiders?
3. Why do you think the people of Nazareth were so pleased with Jesus’ words at first? When Jesus quoted Isaiah, who was he claiming to be? Do you think the hometown folks fully understood that claim?
4. What do you think changed their minds? Why did they shift from speaking well of Jesus to trying to murder him? Why might they have felt threatened by him?
5. The Bible frequently says that Jesus is seated at God’s right hand (Acts 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; and Heb 1:3, to name a few). Where else does Jesus feel at home? Do you believe that he is at home within you? If so, in what ways? How can you make your spirit a more welcoming place for Jesus Christ?

Reference Shelf

In these early chapters, Luke wants to drive home the point, by repetition, that Jesus’ actions were entirely led by the Spirit. The Spirit descended on him at his baptism (3:22), led him into the desert to be tempted by Satan (4:1), and now goes with him back to Galilee (4:14). Although Luke will not always write that Jesus was filled with the Spirit or spoke under the Spirit’s direction, the narrative always assumes it is so.

Jesus’ reputation spreads through Galilee, and he teaches in “their” synagogues, enjoying rave reviews. This will be repeated in 4:36-37 and 4:44, so that the episode at Nazareth, which turns out so badly, is sandwiched between reports of continuous success. In Luke, the synagogue is not necessarily a place of conflict or danger for Jesus, but a place where sometimes he can teach and preach and gain a favorable hearing.

This text is one of a few that describe a first-century synagogue service. In Luke’s account, the congregation owns a scroll of the prophet Isaiah; if they had that, they almost certainly also had a Torah scroll and scrolls of the prophets and the writings. There is also an attendant (like the modern hazzan) who handed the scroll to Jesus and took it back from him. Jesus stood to read but sat to teach, implying a lectern or table behind which he stood to read, and a chair from which he taught. If a seated man could be the focus of the whole audience, then a logical arrangement for the room would be stadium-style benches on three sides of the room, with the speaker standing at the open end.

The text he read is not exactly an outline of what Jesus does in the rest of Luke, but the headings cover many of his activities and major emphases.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me: Jesus the speaker repeats what Luke the narrator said about him: he is being led by God’s Spirit. This puts Jesus in the category of “prophet,” a point that Luke will make later in this episode. It also means that Jesus, as a character, is following the pattern already set in this Gospel by Mary, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Simeon, and John the Baptist. Throughout this Gospel, Jesus will be identified as a prophet, by the types of miracles he does, by the manner in which he champions the poor against the wealthy, by the way he predicts judgment falling on the disobedient people of God, and by the way he calls for repentance in view of the coming kingdom.

Because he has anointed me: The Hebrew word “Messiah” and the Greek word “Christ” both mean “anointed one.” The root idea of the Messiah was to fulfill God’s promise to David that there would always be a king from his line over Israel (2 Sam 7:8-17). The “anointed one” would be God’s choice to restore that line, to rescue Israel, and to bring God’s salvation. But specifics on the Messiah—human or angelic? mortal or immortal? king or prophet or priest or some combination?—were all debated in Jesus’ day. There was no single “messianic ideal” that Luke was trying to correct; there was, instead, a variety of views, and Luke was fitting Jesus into the mix. But as the Gospel progresses, there are also strong hints that for Luke, “messiah” or “king” is not a straightforwardly positive thing to say about Jesus. Thus, Jesus’ inaugural text does not simply say, “because he has anointed me,” but “because he has anointed me to evangelize the poor.”

To preach the gospel to the poor: Jesus echoes his mother’s song when he reads this part of the Isaiah text. Speaking of God’s act of creation in herself, she had said, “He has brought down the pow- erful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (1:52-53). He echoes his cousin’s plainspoken advice to the crowds; when asked what to do in view of God’s coming scourge of Israel, John said, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none, and whoever has food must do likewise.” Salvation in Luke is good news for the poor, and Jesus will not only proclaim it so, but also practice it. The company of believers in Luke-Acts does good for the poor, to the point that one begins to wonder if Luke could imagine a wealthy person remaining wealthy for long after joining Jesus’ followers.

Release to the captives/to set the oppressed free (lit., to send away the oppressed with release): The word translated “release” here is used often in Luke, but elsewhere is translated “forgiveness.” Jesus again sounds like John the Baptist. Luke’s Gospel will often use “repentance and forgiveness of sins” as a summary of the good news, and there is a close connection between discipleship and the forgiveness of sins. The first disciples will be so impressed by Jesus’ miracles that one of them will say, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, Lord” (5:8), and Luke’s Jesus will express his mission as calling sinners to repentance (5:32; Mark 2:17, the source for this verse, lacks “to repentance”). Once Jesus describes a healing as a liberation from Satan (13:16); Luke’s theology also connects Jesus’ ministry of exorcism with this mission to provide “release to the captives.” Freedom, then, means freedom from sin and freedom from the oppressive powers of evil.

Recovery of sight to the blind: Jesus does heal the blind, and at 7:21-22 suggests that his miracles and his preaching the good news to the poor should be sufficient proof that he is the Coming One predicted by John the Baptist. Luke does not present Jesus’ healing ministry as a distraction from his teaching ministry as Mark sometimes does. Whereas Mark’s Jesus never seeks out someone to heal, Luke’s Jesus sometimes does (e.g., 13:12); whereas Mark’s Jesus gives his disciples authority over demons, Luke’s Jesus, in addition, gives them authority to heal and tells them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal (Mark 6:7; Luke 9:1-2).

To preach the favorable year of the Lord: The word “favorable” is an echo of the angels’ song at 2:14; Jesus’ ministry, now started, begins a time when God shows great favor to humans. In the songs of the birth narratives, it is a time when enemies are routed, when the lowly are lifted up, when promises are kept, when light comes to all in darkness. Jesus’ good news will sometimes appear under the heading of the kingdom of God (4:43) or repentance and forgive- ness (5:32) or salvation (19:9), but in each case the central idea is of the gracious activity of God for humans.

For Luke, then, the Isaiah text helps to preview the aims and activities of Jesus. Those who read Luke’s Gospel or who heard it read aloud would have made connections, as we just did, with material in the first three chapters and with themes throughout the rest of the Gospel.

Resource

Richard B. Vinson, Luke, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2008), 116-117, 119-121.

Kelley Land, a graduate of Mercer University, has been an assistant editor for Smyth & Helwys curriculum since 2001. She is a member of West Highland Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia. She enjoys reading and writing fiction, spending time with her husband and two daughters, and watching British television shows. Her goal for 2014 is to learn to play the piano.

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Comments

  1. Geri Martin says:

    Kelley, great insight! I had ended up this week without a teacher book, and the study guide did not provide quite enough depth, while most commentary helps I have were too involved for the time frame of class. I was troubled (from a teaching standpoint) that the text cut off before showing the reaction of the people to the inclusiveness of Jesus. You did a great job of “controlled expansion.” Your personal bio sketch tells me we have a lot in common as well. Thanks.

    • Kelley Land says:

      Hi, Geri! I’m so glad you appreciated the blog about “Going Home.” Our Uniform series follows the International Sunday School lesson plan, and often those brief text excerpts are more meaningful when we explore the verses before and after. Always feel free to expand! I’m pleased that my thoughts were able to help you as you led your group. Blessings to you and your Bible study class!

  2. Geri Martin says:

    Great insight and good job of “controlled expansion” of the focal passage to include the people’s reaction to the inclusiveness of Jesus. Thanks,