3rd Sunday After Epiphany: Shaming the Haters (Luke 4:14-21)


Lectionary this week: The spirit of the Lord is upon me

Luke 4:14-21 is one of those passages that reminds me why Jesus was such a rock star. Standing center stage in the local synagogue, Jesus intentionally misquotes a passage from Isaiah — a passage his listeners were likely familiar with because they used it as a hammer to beat down anyone who didn’t subscribe to their version of the truth.

The passage: Luke 4:14-21 (NRSV)

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

It’s all good news: Jesus shames the haters

Does the passage Jesus read sound familiar? Maybe. Maybe not. But it would have definitely sounded familiar to the Pharisees and everyone else in the synagogue that day. The original version of Luke 4:14-21 is found in Isaiah 61 and Jesus read it word for word. Almost.

Here’s the difference: The Isaiah passage ends with the words, “To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God.

By omitting the “day of vengeance” phrase, Jesus confronted the Pharisees’ flavor of religion, a variation of faith that used Isaiah 61 and similar snippets of scripture to paint an angry, vindictive and violent picture of God.

With a simple scripture reading, Jesus reframed the conversation and sent a powerful message about God’s relationship with humankind:

The kingdom of God isn’t about retribution, revenge or exclusion. It’s about hope, healing and freedom.

Pharisees are alive and well in the 21st century church. A bit harder to identify, but they’re around. Sitting in pews. Sharing their twisted versions of the gospel on Facebook feeds.

And they’re staring back at us in the mirror when we:

  • Use faith to separate “us” from “them.”
  • Use religion to justify a politics of exclusion.
  • Preach a gospel that is anything but good news.

That’s when we become Pharisees. We become haters. We become the very people Jesus was attempting to confront and convert in this passage.

It’s interesting to note that at the end of Luke 4:14-21, Jesus pours salt in the Pharisees’ wounded egos by claiming his place as the embodiment of God’s good news. In a nutshell, Jesus says that if you want to follow him, you had better be prepared to preach all good news, all the time.

There’s just no place for anything else in the kingdom of God.


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