Last week we looked at the first words that Jesus spoke in the Gospel of Mark. This week, we turn to the Gospel of Luke. The sermon in Nazareth in Luke 4 doesn’t provide us Jesus’s first words in Luke. We find those in the story of Jesus in the temple: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49). Even so, this sermon is thematic for Luke’s depiction of Jesus. Just like his call, “the time is fulfilled,” sets a tone of urgency that perfectly fits Mark’s Gospel.
In Mark 1, we heard Jesus declare that the kingdom of God has drawn near. In Luke 4, we learn more about what that kingdom looks like and how it is manifested on earth.
So what does Luke want us to understand about Jesus from some of his first moments in the spotlight? To answer that question, he leads us to Jesus’s hometown of Nazareth, where he is invited to speak in the synagogue. He reads from Isaiah 61 about God’s agenda of good news to the poor, release of captives, and “the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:19).
Interpreters all but unanimously understand this final phrase to be a reference to the year of Jubilee described in Leviticus 25, a year of justice at its most basic, with freedom, economic reform, and forgiveness of debts. Rabbinic scholars taught (and archeology bears out) that the seven-year cycle of sabbatical years was reinstated after the Jewish exiles returned from Babylonia, but the fifty-year Jubilee cycle was not. And it seems the more years that passed, the more deeply enslaved and indebted the people became.
What, then, does it mean that Jesus placed the Jubilee at the center of his agenda? At the very least, it should tell us that Jesus is concerned for the whole person: not just “saving their souls” but mending their bodies, restoring their relationships, and confronting the social and economic injustices that ensnare them.
The kingdom of God isn’t just the promise of a home with God in heaven; it’s a declaration that God’s transforming power has been unleashed in the world, redeeming every aspect of life.
And to the amazement of the crowd, Jesus says that this vision of peace and justice is fulfilled in their presence.
• What does Jesus’s sermon reveal about the nature of his mission and ministry?
• How does this sermon challenge or expand our understanding of the kingdom of God?
• How are spiritual, physical, material, and social needs connected?
• What would Jubilee look like in our world today?
Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.
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