Continuing my reflections on the Gospel passage set for this coming Sunday (Luke 4:14–21). See also https://johntsquires.com/2022/01/20/jesus-and-conventional-jewish-piety-luke-416-epiphany-3c/
In this passage, Luke reports that Jesus attends synagogues in his home region, Galilee (Luke 4:14) and especially in his hometown of Nazareth (4:16). As a faithful Jew, in the synagogue on the sabbath day, Jesus would expect to hear scripture read and interpreted. In fact, this is the task which he himself undertakes on this sabbath day in Nazareth.
Luke expands the Markan account of the incident (Mark 6:1–6) by noting that Jesus unrolled the scroll and read a passage from the prophets; he then provides a direct quote from the passage, which we recognise as being found in Isaiah 61:1–2a, with the additional insertion of a line from Isaiah 58:6b, “to let the oppressed go free”.
Luke also adds the firm declaration of Jesus, “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). In these brief put potent additions, Luke signals another of the themes which will recur throughout his story of Jesus: the inter-relation of scripture and experience.
An explicit citation of scripture, with an associated comment that it could be understood to explain events that were taking place, is moved to the very start of Luke’s description of the activities of the adult John the baptiser (3:4–6, quoting Isa 40:3–5).
The same pattern of interpreting an event by reference to scripture is followed by Jesus when he comments on the people’s misunderstanding of parables at 8:9–10; then when he criticises the practices being carried out in the temple courtyard at 19:45–46. Luke inserts a similar comment into his account of the passion of Jesus, at 22:37.
In his final appearance in Luke’s Gospel, the risen Jesus articulates the principle which undergirds these instances: “everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms, must be fulfilled” (24:44). That is to say, inherent in scripture is the potential for shedding light on the meaning of any event associated with Jesus.
These passages are the tip of the iceberg, where the link is explicitly noted; at many other points in Luke’s story of Jesus, there are scriptural allusions or suggestions that scriptural passages lie just below the surface of the narrative.
This particular hermeneutic is not unique to Luke; it is also to be found in other early Christian texts: in the good news told by Mark, in the book of signs attributed to the beloved disciple (John), and in certain of the letters of the apostle Paul. It saturates the sermon which we know as the epistle to the Hebrews, and recurs with a particular intensity throughout the book of origins, attributed to Matthew. It is also to be found, in a variant but related form, in the so-called pesher scrolls amongst the library discovered in the caves near Qumran. Such a hermeneutic was widespread throughout the Jewish world in the late hellenistic period.
In Luke’s second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, the same dynamic inter- relation between experience and scripture is to be found. This is most conspicuous at the start of Peter’s speech on the day of Pentecost, when he interprets the portentous events of the day by relating them to Joel 2:28–32, “God declares, I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh” (Acts 2:14–21).
It is also highlighted quite firmly at the conclusion of Paul’s defence speech in Caesarea. Paul declares to King Agrippa, Queen Bernice, and Governor Festus that the prophets and Moses have all pointed to the suffering of the Messiah as well as to the proclamation of light to the people and the Gentiles (26:23). This same perspective recurs on the lips of others who preach in the Acts of the Apostles: Peter (2:25–35), Stephen (7:2–50), Philip (8:32–35), James (15:16–18) and Paul (13:27–37; 28:23–27).
The perspective which the Lukan Jesus exemplifies in the hometown incident at Luke 4 is thus replicated throughout both volumes of Luke’s work. In this perspective, scripture and experience are brought into an intimate relationship—the one interprets the other. The experiences of faith are informed by scriptural passages which resonate with those experiences; and the passages which are read in scripture resound with the experiences of people of faith.
This post draws on my work published as AT TABLE WITH LUKE (UTC Publications; UTC Bible Studies 2, 2000) ©John T. Squires 2000