Sunday, January 16, 2022

Handed Over and Given Back

Below is a rough translation and some comments about Luke 4:14-21, the gospel reading for the third Sunday after Epiphany. The text stops with Jesus words that the reading has been fulfilled. It does not go on to the part of the story where this all takes a bad turn. The first interpretive question facing the preacher this week, I think, is whether we should stop with v.21 or follow the story to its conclusion. If we are leaning into this story as an Epiphany story, a story that shows us something about the Christ, stopping with verse 21 seems fair enough. If we want to focus on how Luke tell us this story, we may want to read on through verse 30, especially if the Bibles that folks might we reading with us has the subtitle, "Jesus is Rejected in Nazareth." 

As usual, setting the parameters of the pericope is part of the interpretive process. And, as usual, I welcome your comments.

14 Καὶ ὑπέστρεψεν  Ἰησοῦς ἐν τῇ δυνάμει τοῦ πνεύματος εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν. καὶ φήμη ἐξῆλθεν καθ' ὅλης τῆς περιχώρου περὶ αὐτοῦ. 
And Jesus returned in the power of the spirit into Galilee. And a report went out throughout the entire surrounding region about him.
ὑπέστρεψεν: AAI 3s, ὑποστρέφω, 1) to turn back  1a) to turn about  2) to return
ἐξῆλθεν: AAI 3s, ἐξέρχομαι, 1) to go or come forth of 
1. Luke’s narrative of events was interrupted by a genealogy at the end of c.3. Jesus had been baptized by John in the Jordan. C.4 begins with the note that Jesus returned from the Jordan full of a holy spirit. He was led by the spirit into the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days, was famished, and withstood three temptations from the devil. Luke does not mention that the angels ministered to Jesus following the temptations, like Mark and Matthew do. After the temptations ended, comes the description of this verse, “Jesus returned in the power of the spirit to Galilee.” So, the baptism itself was an occasion after which Jesus was full of a holy spirit. And, the temptations was an occasion after which Jesus returned in the power of the spirit. We might read this as suggesting that the Spirit comes in a variety of ways; or we might read it that Jesus was full of a holy spirit come what may. 
2. We do not know what, exactly, the report that went out about Jesus was. The next verse mentions his preaching, which was greatly received, so perhaps that was it. Or, perhaps it was something else – like maybe being filled with the power of the spirit is not just a description of someone’s inner state, but a way of being that is evident to others. In some Old Testament texts (I Samuel 10:9-13), and certainly in the Pentecost story of Acts 2, the endowment of the spirit was accompanied by outward signs that were unmistakable. I don't know if that's what we are to assume here. 

15 καὶ αὐτὸς ἐδίδασκενἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς αὐτῶν, δοξαζόμενος ὑπὸ πάντων. 
And he was teaching in their synagogues, being celebrated by all.
ἐδίδασκενἐν: IAI 3s, διδάσκω, 1) to teach
δοξαζόμενος : PPPart nsm, δοξάζω, 1) to think, suppose, be of opinion  2) to praise, extol, magnify, celebrate 
1. It’s hard to know what to make of this verse until one reads the following verses that demonstrate how Jesus preached and unless one supposes that what Jesus preached to his home folk in Nazareth was the same message that he preached elsewhere. Then, of course, there is the question of what the message in Nazareth says to the listeners and what ‘celebrating’ that message would mean. It’s hard to imagine that it would be as banal as, “He’s pretty entertaining” or “He really gave me something to think about throughout my day.” I suspect it is more akin to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., holding crowd spellbound with his speaking, because it was so timely to their struggle and hope.  

16 Καὶ ἦλθεν εἰς Ναζαρά, οὗ ἦν τεθραμμένος, καὶ εἰσῆλθεν κατὰ τὸ εἰωθὸς αὐτῷ ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῶν σαββάτων εἰς τὴν συναγωγήν, καὶ ἀνέστη ἀναγνῶνα. 
And he came into Nazareth, where he had been raised, and entered according to his custom in the day of the sabbaths into the synagogue and rose up to read.  
ἦλθεν: AAI 3s, ἔρχομαι, 1) to come  
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
τεθραμμένος: PerfPPart nsm, τρέφω, 1) to nourish, support  2) feed  3) to give suck, to fatten  4) to bring up, nurture
εἰσῆλθεν: AAI 3s, εἰσέρχομαι, 1) to go out or come in: to enter
ἀνέστη: AAI 3s, ἀνίστημι, 1) to cause to rise up, raise up
ἀναγνῶναι: AAInf, ἀναγινώσκω, 1) to distinguish between, to recognise, to know accurately,  to acknowledge  2) to read 
1. I don’t want to miss the connection between Jesus being raised in Nazareth and Jesus going to the Synagogue on day of the Sabbaths, as was his custom. That custom may well be one of the things he inherited while growing up in Nazareth. It might also be something that Luke’s readers do not take for granted as a custom. 
2. This story about Jesus in Nazareth, is straddling two things. One is that Jesus' faith was cradled here, through family habits, through the faithful maintenance of a worshiping community, through teaching, example, etc. The other is that Jesus' message is rejected here. Holding the two together exposes the tragic dimensions of that rejection. Those who are rejecting Jesus are not just naysayers or some random brood of vipers. They are the ones whose faithfulness gave him that foundation of faith. They anticipated his coming, from these first few comments, with joy. And yet, when Jesus reads and declares, they reject him. It's hard to imagine the depth of their experience to turn on Jesus in this way, or to imagine the depth of his experience to be rejected by the very folks who fed his faith originally. This is a very difficult story. 
3. Luke uses the term τεθραμμένος, the perfect participial form of τρέφω, to feed or nourish, which I am translating as where "he had been raised." Luke uses this verb 2 other times. In one, it refers to God feeding birds (12:24) and in the other, to Mary nursing Jesus (23:29). Again, the language shows that the geographical place of Nazareth is not simply a pin on a map, but a story of origins, ethos, identity, and faith. 

17 καὶ ἐπεδόθη αὐτῷ βιβλίον τοῦ προφήτου Ἠσαΐου, καὶ ἀναπτύξας τὸ 
βιβλίον εὗρεν τὸν τόπον οὗ ἦν γεγραμμένον, 
And a book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him, and having unrolled the book he found the place where it was having been written,
ἐπεδόθη: API 3s, ἐπιδίδωμι 1) to hand, give by hand  2) to give over 
ἀναπτύξας: AAPart nsm, ἀναπτύσσω, 1) to unroll
εὗρεν: AAI 3s, εὑρίσκω, 1) to come upon, hit upon, to meet with  1a) after searching, to find a thing sought  
ἦν: IAI 3s, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
γεγραμμένον: PerfPPart nsn, γράφω, 1) to write, with reference to the form of the letters
1. Below, in v.20, I will make the connection between the details that the book was given to him, which he unrolled, and that he rolled it up, then gave it back.
2. “A book of the prophet Isaiah.” The text that Jesus reads is actually a merge of Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:6. Interpreters of this text are left wondering: Was the text in the Nazareth synagogue different from the texts that we have today? (I’ve never seen anyone suggest that to be the case, and I don’t know textual history enough to know if it ought even to be a possibility.) Did Jesus deliberately add Is.58:6 to Is. 61:1-2, as well as deliberately leave out the “day of vengeance” in Is.62:2? Did Luke mix and merge the Isaiah texts? If so, did he do so deliberately, or was he working from poor memory?
3. If the merges and omissions are deliberate – on either Jesus’ or Luke’s part – then they would seem to be very significant. If they were inadvertent, then we ought to remember that not every had a pocket edition of the Bible on hand when these stories were taking place and being passed down. 
4. This text is often spoken of as Jesus’ inaugural speech, or something like that, where he lays out his agenda more or less. There are good reasons for seeing this story that way, but here are some interesting interactive details: The scroll was given to him, while he found the place where he read. It is not just a matter of Jesus saying, “Of all the scriptures, this is what is being fulfilled today.” It may be more like “Of what is proclaimed on this scroll, here is what is being fulfilled today.”

18 Πνεῦμα κυρίου ἐπ' ἐμέ, οὗ εἵνεκεν ἔχρισέν με εὐαγγελίσασθαι πτωχοῖς, 
ἀπέσταλκέν με κηρύξαι αἰχμαλώτοις ἄφεσιν καὶ τυφλοῖς ἀνάβλεψιν, 
ἀποστεῖλαι τεθραυσμένους ἐν ἀφέσει, 
“A spirit of the lord on me, for he christened me to evangelize poor ones, has sent me to proclaim release to the captive ones and to the blind ones recovery of sight, to send away in liberty those who have been shattered,
ἔχρισέν: AAI 3s, χρίω, 1) to anoint
εὐαγγελίσασθαι: AMInf, εὐαγγελίζω, 1) to bring good news, to announce glad tidings
ἀπέσταλκέν: PerfAI 3s, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed
κηρύξαι: AAInf, κηρύσσω, 1) to be a herald, to officiate as a herald  1a) to proclaim after the manner of a herald  
ἀποστεῖλαι: AAInf, ἀποστέλλω, 1) to order (one) to go to a place appointed  2) to send away, dismiss  2a) to allow one to depart, that he may be in a state of  liberty
τεθραυσμένους: PerfPPart apm, θραύω, 1) to break, break in pieces, shatter, smite through
1. There is no verb in the first part of this verse, so most translations add ‘is.’
2. The word ‘spirit’ lacks a definite article, so “a” spirit, not “the” spirit. The significance “a spirit of the Lord” v. “the Spirit of the Lord” for this text might pertain to the implied subject of the verbs in this sentence. If the sentence begins with “The Spirit of the Lord,” I think we are inclined to read “[the Spirit] has anointed me ….” If it begins with “a spirit of the Lord,” we might be inclined to read “[the Lord] has anointed me ….”  
3. The root of the verb χρίω, ‘christened,’ is the same as χρίστοσ, or ‘Christ.’ It is usually translated ‘anointed’ since Christ means ‘anointed one.’ I am not challenging the usual translation; I am only translating it as ‘christened’ to show the etymological root.
4. The verb ἀποστέλλω is repeated in both Jesus being sent and Jesus sending away in liberty those who have been shattered. Some writers who have been reflecting on the “missional” nature of the church have picked up on how God is a sending God, who has sent Christ in order for Christ to send the church into the world – as opposed to Christ calling the church to huddle together to preserve ourselves apart from the world. I applaud the fresh emphasis on the church being a ‘sent and sending’ body by nature. However, our verse adds another liberative dimension that I think some folks leave out of the ‘missional’ reflection. Jesus speaks of ‘sending away in liberty those who have been shattered.’ I think this is actually the end result of the missional church – to restore people to their full humanity, to live freely and joyfully in the world.

19 κηρύξαι ἐνιαυ τὸν κυρίου δεκτόν.
to proclaim an acceptable year of the lord.” [Or: “… a year of the Lord’s favor.”]
κηρύξαι: AAInf, κηρύσσω, 1) to be a herald, to officiate as a herald  1a) to proclaim after the manner of a herald  
1. Again, there is no definite article for ‘year.’
2. Sam Ballentine offers a very helpful breakdown of how this reading does and does not correspond with Isaiah 61.
Luke 4:18 (Isa.61:1) The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor
       [Luke omits: "to bind up the brokenhearted."]
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
      [instead of: "to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners]
and recovery of sight to the blind,
      [not present in Isa.61:l; perhaps an allusion to Isa.35:5; 42:6-7]
to let the oppressed go free
      [Isa.58:6, but omitting the rest of verse 6]
Luke 4:19 (Isa.61:2) to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
      [Luke omits: "and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn"]
Sam Ballentine, "He unrolled the scroll...and he rolled up the scroll and gave it back", Cross Currents 59 no 2 Je 2009, p 154-175.

20 καὶ πτύξας τὸ βιβλίον ἀποδοὺς τῷ ὑπηρέτῃ ἐκάθισεν: καὶ πάντων οἱ 
ὀφθαλμοὶ ἐν τῇ συναγωγῇ ἦσαν ἀτενίζοντες αὐτῷ. 
And having rolled up the book having given back to the attendant he sat down; and all of the eyes in the synagogue were being fixed on him.
πτύξας: AAPart nsm, πτύσσω, 1) to fold together, roll up
ἀποδοὺς: AAPart nsm, ἀποδίδωμι, 1) to deliver ...  3) to give back, 
ἐκάθισεν: AAI 3s, καθίζω, 1) to make to sit down 
ἦσαν: IAI 3p, εἰμί, 1) to be, to exist, to happen, to be present
ἀτενίζοντες: PAPart npm, ἀτενίζω, 1) to fix the eyes on, gaze upon  2) to look into anything  3) metaph. to fix one's mind on one as an example
1. In v.17 a book is handed to Jesus, which he unrolls to read. In v.20, Jesus rolls it back up and hands it back. I like to imagine that this very deliberate attention to detail is meaningful, but I don’t want to go allegory-crazy like the old days when every detail was forced to mean something wonderful. Perhaps sometimes a scroll is just a scroll, but in this case I wonder if receiving the book is not a continuation of the thought that Nazareth is where Jesus got his roots and developed his habit of going to the synagogue on the Sabbath. Likewise, then, it is where the Scriptures were given to him in the first place – Not just on this occasion, but in his life. Now, even though he is preparing to say that the fulfillment of the Scripture is at hand, he gives the scroll back, because the synagogue in Nazareth will continue to be a place where the Scriptures are read and heard.
2. I say this knowing that in a few short verses, this crowd will be filled with rage and try to push Jesus off a cliff. That turn of events will be incredibly nasty, but even while they are out there being a mob and attempting to kill Jesus, the scroll of the prophet Isaiah will be there, in the synagogue, as a witness that God is liberating, good-newsing the poor, etc. I think the tradition elements of this story heighten both the bitterness and the irony of the rejection.
3. PREACHERS, TAKE NOTE!: We don’t know who the person is, but Luke identifies them with the word, ὑπηρέτῃ, “attendant.” One other use of this term in Luke is in his introduction, 1:1-4:  “Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” The attendant is a “Servant of the word.” What a lovely way to imagine the work of reading and proclaiming Scriptures, or of serving as a liturgist, facilitating the proclamation during gathered worship! I can now see why the selected sermons of Friedrich Schleiermacher were called “Servant of the Word.” It is a promising phrase. Use it for yourself or to lift up the importance of those folks in your congregations whose efforts make proclamation possible. 

21 ἤρξατο δὲ λέγειν πρὸς αὐτοὺς ὅτι Σήμερον πεπλήρωται  γραφὴ αὕτηἐν 
τοῖς ὠσὶν ὑμῶν.
Yet he began to say to them “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your ears.”
ἤρξατο: AMI 3s, ἄρχω, 1) to be chief, to lead, to rule
λέγειν: PAInf, λέγω, 1) to say, to speak
πεπλήρωται: PerfPI 3s, πληρόω, 1) to make full, to fill up, i.e. to fill to the full  
1. Gail O’Day argues that the perfect tense of πεπλήρωται should be translated “is now fulfilled” instead of “has been fulfilled” (NRSV) because the perfect tense is intended to show an action that is completed in the present moment but that has ongoing significance. That has not always been my experience with the perfect tense. My understanding is that it refers to a past event with present consequences. In this case, I would think the ‘past event’ that has present consequences would be the the Isaiah text that has been fulfilled in the act of reading/hearing.
Gail O’Day, "Today this word is fulfilled in your hearing": a scriptural hermeneutic of biblical authority, Word & World 26 no 4 Aut 2006, p 357-364.  
2. The phrase, “in your hearing” strikes me as saying that in the interaction of reading and hearing of the Scriptures – maybe generally, but certainly in this case on that day in that synagogue by that reader to those hearers– the Scriptures are fulfilled in some way. That would particularly resonate with a reading/hearing that is about proclaiming good news.
3. To that point, it would have been entirely different if Jesus had said, “This Scripture is fulfilled in me.” Instead, he points to the preaching moment – the moment when the folks heard the words proclaimed – as the point at which Isaiah’s augmented words were fulfilled. Without any attempt to take away from the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, I wonder: If someone had read Isaiah’s text twenty years before in that same synagogue, might have been true then also that the Scriptures were being fulfilled in the hearing? (There might have been a little boy, Mary and Joseph’s child, who experienced this.) If someone were to read these words 2,000 years later, might it also be true that the Scriptures are being fulfilled in the hearing? I wonder if the “Today” of this story is a singular moment in history or the “eternal now” of when the word is fulfilled through proclamation and hearing.
4. Therefore, I wholeheartedly agree with O’Day’s comment that, “Within the narrative details of the initial story, then, we already can see several items that point away from Scripture as static and the interpreter as a consumer and toward the creative interaction of text, context, and interpreter...”
5. I have edited this translation from "in your hearing" to "in your ears." I am not claiming that there is a significant difference in meaning, but I do aim to keep this translation as literal as possible, and ὠσὶν is the plural noun for ears. Later in this story (v.28) we will see ἀκούω, the common verb for "to hear."  I'm not trying to make a big deal out of the difference. Just trying to stay to my aim of raw translation.   


  1. the thought that came to me with it being 'fulfilled in the hearing' is that Jesus has just done all the things he said he would do release to captives, good news, etc. He has started the process that Isaiah said would happen. His audience are those to whom the message needs to be give.

  2. the thought that came to me with it being 'fulfilled in the hearing' is that Jesus has just done all the things he said he would do release to captives, good news, etc. He has started the process that Isaiah said would happen. His audience are those to whom the message needs to be give.

  3. I've been chewing on "fulfilled in the hearing" too, and I'm almost hearing a kind of bestowal of the Spirit - i.e. that the very first phrase is the part that is fulfilled, not just in Jesus but also in the hearer. Then we (as the synagogue hearers) are commissioned to be part of establishing this "acceptable year." I would also hope that participating in this project makes for good news to the participants; we find our own freedom in letting the oppressed go free. This all strikes me as linguistically unlikely, since "in your hearing" sounds so much like a Hebraism to mean "in your presence," but I may just not tell anyone that part.

  4. This blog is fantastic. If you do this for the lectionary every week (and I see at least several weeks back of this), then (a) this is my new favorite blog and (b) this is very close to an idea I've had for my own ministry, when the day comes for me to be in weekly preaching parish ministry. So great.

    I did preach yesterday at my church (I'm not on staff) on this passage, and did cheat ahead a little.

    (A few reflections here if you want to see them

  5. Also curious what you use for a lexicon and parsing? Bible software? Paper books? Both?

  6. Abramkj: Thank you for your gracious comments. For this work, I rely on for the text and help with parsing, defining, etc. And I use for refining some of the definitions, tracking how words have been used elsewhere, etc. It is not until after I post these that I turn to my hard copy resources, such as lexicons, commentaries, etc.
    Partly that is by design - my Seminary professor insisted that we hold off on turning to commentaries until after we had done our own due diligence. Partly it is practical. I do most of this work early on Mondays and Tuesdays, before going to my office where my books are.

  7. Revhope and ecologian: Thanks for your comments. I think there is a miracle that happens when the word of God is read and heard, yet it is hard to describe precisely. Thanks for joining the conversation.

  8. He was led by the devil into the wilderness where he fasted for 40 days? Led by the Spirit, perhaps?

    1. Yes. Led by the spirit and tempted by the devil. I have corrected it. Thanks.

  9. I would think the "celebrating" is the accolades of a hometown boy does good and is coming back around to his original starting place. He appears to have been teaching in other places in Galilee, and now has come back home. By not including the rest of the story, we do not see how their expectations of what he was doing did not match what he was to be about.

  10. Wanted to ask about the translation of the sabbath day as day of sabbaths, which might indicate that this Sabbath was connected to the Passover? Been toying with the ideas about first fruits here and then at the resurrection.

    1. σαββάτων Sabbaths plural

    2. Hi Janet Bunker, thanks for the notes. Yes, I should correct it to read "the sabbaths," as you point out. And your reference to the resurrection is nice, because every gospel account of the resurrection place it on "the first day of the sabbaths." (Mk. 16:2, Mt.28:1, Lk.24:1; John 20:19). There are lots of conspiracy theories out there about what that phrase itself might mean, but it seems to me that the when "sabbath" appears in the plural it could often be translated as something like "weekly" or "week," depending on what is unfolding.
      Whether there is an inherent connection between the plural "Sabbaths" and Passover .... hmm.... I can only toy around with the idea along with you. I'd have to do a closer word study with each of the gospels before being able to do more than that.
      I'll be interested in what you come up with.
      Thanks again for your note. MD

  11. The unrolling and rolling up of the scroll also made me think of Rev 5 - the scroll and the Lamb.

    1. If there's a connection, my guess would be that the author or Revelation is echoing Luke rather than the other way around. Unless there is a tradition of scrolling that was known back then as signifying something that I'm not aware of.
      I like the way you speculate.

  12. About the 'in your hearing': it maybe just a way of speaking - Jesus could have said 'today you are seeing this fulfilled' but perhaps he was implying they couldn't see at all. Followed by the reference to opening the eyes of the blind seems to reinforce that impression especially as only the LXX and not the Hebrew versions of Isaiah apparently include ref to the blind.

  13. Curious. KJV text includes "ἰὰσασθαι τοὺς συντετριμμένους τὴν καρδίαν" - heal the heart crushed (?). But it isn't in the NRSV or here?

  14. Looks like that was in the Hebrew Bible - taken into KJV?


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