Jesus’ initial address at the Synagogue in Nazareth, chronicled in Luke 4:16-30, hall-marked the arrival of His mission to “bring good news to the poor.” This essay seeks to focus on this key event and to explore the Lukan focus of the ministry of Jesus, regarding His interaction, concern and works, to the poor, within the Gospel.
Strauss (1995) states that it is almost universally accepted that Jesus’ first sermon at Nazareth was programmatically significant for the Gospel of Luke. Indeed, all commentators referenced in this essay posit that Luke has a special focus on highlighting the plight of the marginalised, indeed Moyter (1995) declares that the Gospel of John, for instance, shows “no interest in the poor.” (p. 70). Strauss (1995) proclaims the idea that Jesus effectively states, in the Nazareth sermon, that He is the “messianic herald” by both announcing and also bringing fulfillment to God’s eschatological salvation. (p. 221).
This essay will focus initially on the theology of the Nazareth Synagogue Rejection narrative before detailing some of the works of Jesus that are highlighted in Luke that demonstrate the broadness of His interest in freeing the poor. Further, the use of the word poor in this essay is to be taken in the broader context, as Green (1993, 1994) and others put it, as for those who are socially outcast.
THEOLOGY OF LUKE 4:16-30 AND ITS CONNECTING SCRIPTURE
Strauss (1995) highlights Jesus’ analogies in vv. 25-27, in relation to Elijah and Elisha–their deeds in these verses in blessing Gentiles–that His public ministry would centre around the outsider, for example, the sinner, the tax collector, women, the lame, children, and non-Jews; most categorically, seeking the Gentile population. Whilst Strauss (1995) indicates this messianic calling sought to redeem the “‘outcasts’ in the Gospel”, he emphatically stops short of saying these verses announce “God’s rejection of Israel.” (p. 223). Until this time, the passages suggest the Nazareth congregation was simply amazed by Jesus’ words. In verse 28, however, we learn that they “were filled with rage” in response to Jesus’ comparisons of himself to these prophets.
Strauss (1995) elicits the strong link, theologically, of the books of Isaiah (prophecy) and Luke and Acts (fulfillment), for example, with reference to “light and darkness, blindness and sight” in relation to healing and the release of those ‘in prison.’ (p. 237). Indeed, there are intrinsic linkages in both Luke and Acts back to Isaiah (Strauss, 1995).
The quoting of the passages from Isaiah in Luke 4:16-30 proves most interesting. Hertig (1998) exegetes this in the justification of the ‘astonished’ responses of the congregation. He tells us that the framing that Jesus used when quoting the parts of Isaiah 61 and 58 used, that He is both proclaiming Yahweh’s freedom to the oppressed, but stops short of quoting the second half of verse 2 of chapter 61 – “and the day of vengeance of our God” – meaning that the Jews expectation of the Messiah to do just that is erroneous (also in Strauss, 1995). It is worth noting Hertig (1998) quoting Prior (1995) in saying that the combination use of Isaiah 61 and 58 “intensifies the social dimension of the prophetic message [providing] a striking corrective to any religious practice which is carried on without concern for the poor, and especially so when religious activity continues in the very act of oppressing them.” (p. 168). Strauss (1995) broadens the aspect of Jesus’ “royal-messianic portrait” by painting the picture that the Christ is not the type of Saviour that Jewish Tradition is really expecting. (p. 198).
Strauss (1995) agrees that the congregation at Nazareth we’re both amazed and offended by Jesus’ words. Hertig (1998) argues however that whilst the response from the congregation is perceived by Jesus as outright rejection, it is actually a positive response. This event is “transitional in the life and ministry of Jesus.” (p. 168). Green (1995) cites that Jesus says “me” three times in the passage. It is Hertig (1998) who raises Jesus’ intent to install the Year of Jubilee as initially referred in Leviticus 25 as part of the Messianic mission – “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” and the phrase “sent me to proclaim release to the captives.” Strauss (1995) contends however, that whilst the jubilee theme may not be central to the Lukan message, he does suggest that eschatologically, it does apply to “release from those afflicted by Satan.” (p. 221).
In the exegesis of the passage Hertig (1998) shows that not only is Jesus “the bearer of good news to the poor, but equally the deliverer of the poor in their sufferings.” (p. 172). Moreover, this leads him to hypothesize that the deliverance is holistic in nature – bringing spiritual, physical, socio-political, and psychological freedom for those oppressed (Hertig, 1998).
The poor in the context of Luke are put in Old Testament terms as being those of “both social and religious humility.” (Hertig, 1998, p. 173). This shows us that the poor are not those just financially destitute, but those who are “victims of unjust structures of society.” (p. 173).
Green (1994) points out that in no less than six different places we see the use of the word ‘poor’ in Luke’s Gospel. He is quick to cite however that the word is used in quite different contexts, referring to many different kinds of suffering, including: the oppressed, mournful, hungry, persecuted, and some different forms of the physically impaired.
OUTWORKING OF JESUS’ CONCERN FOR THE MARGINALISED
It is clear from the previous discussion that Luke’s Gospel portrays the core of Jesus’ ministry to deliver the marginalised of society. Again, Green (1995) shows Luke portraying Jesus “continuously in the company of those on the margins of society.” (p. 84). This section will discuss the actual outworking of the theology through some of the examples Luke brought us.
The story of Jesus and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) is topical in its use of the ‘rich man’ paradigm that Hertig (1998) shows us. Zacchaeus is shown to give half his possessions away and repay four times that he owes others. Zacchaeus’ deed demonstrates effectively the “jubilee theme” – the spreading of wealth to the poor – and he summarily receives blessing from Jesus. (p. 175). Seccombe (1983) shows how Luke skilfully places the Zacchaeus account after the blind beggar story (chapter 18), demonstrating Jesus’ deep concern for the salvation of all those estranged from God, the rich and poor; the socially outcast. Luke seeks to show that both Zacchaeus and the blind beggar are of equal standing in the kingdom of God (Seccombe, 1983).
In the Parable of the Great Dinner (Luke 14:15-24), Hertig (1998) displays the further use of jubilee language. The eschatological significance of this parable is profound. Not only will those who are invited to the Dinner, reject the invitation, but once new invitees are invited, anyone on the initial list who does arrive for the Dinner will be rejected! In verse 21 Luke quotes Jesus referring to the second invitees as “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame” deducing that the ‘marginalised’ of society would be the beneficiaries of the second invitation to all.
The outworking evidence of Jesus’ ministry to the marginalised group in women is another recurring theme in Luke’s Gospel. Green (1995) shows nine key passages in Luke whereby women are portrayed in a positive light, being restored to life by repenting from sin, being benefactors of the Lord, and even being “spokespersons for God” as were Mary and Elisabeth in the Birth narrative. Indeed, it is in the resurrection narrative that women are blessed to witness the events and to believe much more readily than he disciples did initially. This shows the women in a much more godly light than men – “Their faithful witness is set in contrast to the response of the male disciples.” (Green, 1995, p. 93).
SUMMARY OF ESSAY
Hertig (1998) states “Luke’s jubilee theme of rich and poor is a promise to the poor and a challenge to the rich.” (p. 176). I have used this essay to highlight the Lukan message of Jesus’ ministry to the marginalised of society, framing it eschatologically, together with the Leviticus 25 jubilee theme; the evidence of which was lacking in Old Testament times (Hertig, 1998).
Green (1994) shows Luke’s focus to open the way to understand Jesus’ mission was, and is, and is to be, one of “proclaim[ing] release to the captives” and lett[ing] the oppressed go free” to their eternal salvation.
DeSilva, D.A., An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods & Ministry Formation. (InterVarsity, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2004)
Green, J.B. ‘Good News to Whom? Jesus and the “Poor” in the Gospel of Luke’ 59-74 in Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ: Essays on the Historical Jesus and New Testament Christology. (Eds. J.B. Marshall and M. Turner. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.)
Green, J.B., New Testament Theology: The Theology of the Gospel of Luke. (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995.)
Hendrickx, H., The Third Gospel for the Third World – Volume Two-A. (Claretian Publications, Philippines, 1997)
Hertig, P., The Jubilee Mission of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke: Reversals of Fortunes in Missiology: An International Review, Volume XXVI Number 2 April 1998.
Motyer, S., ‘Jesus and the Marginalised in the Fourth Gospel’ 70-89 in Mission and Meaning: Essays Presented to Peter Cotterell. (Paternoster Press, Carlisle, 1995.)
Seccombe, D.P., Studien zum Neuen Testament und seiner Umwelt – Possessions and the Poor in Luke-Acts. (Prof. DDr A. Fuchs, Linz, 1983.)
Strauss, M.L., The Davidic Messiah in Luke-Acts: The Promise and its Fulfillment (sic) in Lukan Christology. (Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, England, 1995.)
Willoughby, R. ‘The Concept of Jubilee and Luke 4:14-30’ 41-55 in Mission and Meaning: Essays Presented to Peter Cotterell. (Paternoster Press, Carlisle, 1995.)
All referenced Bible verses taken from the New Revised Standard Version, Zondervan ISBN 0-310-90236-3.