Luke 4:17-20 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 proclaim good news to the poor . . . .”
Imagine being a first-century Jew in the town of Nazareth under Roman rule. Your Jewish tradition has taught you that the Messiah will come and restore your people to a position of power and wealth. You expect the Messiah to be a warrior, someone who will come to save the Jewish people by a violent display of the Lord’s displeasure with the oppression of His chosen people. As was customary, you spend the Sabbath at the synagogue. You notice that an unfamiliar man is in the synagogue today, you vaguely recognize him and, perhaps, he is the eldest son of Joseph, a local carpenter. He stands up to read and is given the scroll of Isaiah. You know much of this sacred text which talks of the Lord’s justice and His redemptive plan for His people. As this man concludes his reading, he claims that the prophecy is fulfilled claiming to be the Messiah and in your utter confusion you witness the crowd at the synagogue become enraged and run the man out of town.
This man looks nothing like the Messiah you have been taught to expect. He did not choose to read the prophecies about regaining cities and land, about the Lord’s vengeance and wrath, about the rightful place of the Jewish people. Instead, he has declared that he will preach to the poor, release the captives, and set the oppressed free. You leave the synagogue that day wondering who that man was and if he is the Messiah sent to fulfill the prophecies handed down by your ancestors.
When we put ourselves in the shoes of someone who encountered Jesus that day in the synagogue, we see just how radically different Jesus was from the messianic expectation. He was not a warrior, He was not proclaiming the greatness of the Hebrew people and insisting on their return to power. He was a carpenter’s son who chose to highlight a passage from Isaiah focused on the Lord’s care for those at the margins of society. A passage that speaks to freedom from oppression rather than amassing worldly power. These were Jesus’s first recorded words read from scripture within the walls of a synagogue. As we stop and reflect on what Jesus believed was the most important as he proclaimed Himself the Messiah, we will see that He first highlights restoration for those at the margins and He positions Himself as the Messiah who, through His redemptive power on the cross, can bring freedom amid this broken world.
Dear God – As I read Your word, I try to find You in every passage. I ponder how the passage reveals more of Your heart to mine. Sometimes I see you in the defiant actions of women like Shiphra and Puah. Sometimes I see you in the quiet whisper in the wind. As we learn to better love and care for our neighbor, I pray that our heart is guided by Yours. You care so much for the marginalized, for the underprivileged, the minoritized, and the incarcerated that You proclaimed their worth and freedom in your first ever recorded sermon. I pray that my heart reflects Your heart and that I care for not only the spiritual, but earthly, freedom of all my neighbors and, especially, for those neighbors who are cast aside for I know that when I care for them, I am caring for You. Sometimes this care will come in bold, defiant actions, and sometimes it will come in whispered prayers in the night. Please let all of those be within Your will and reveal Your heart.