|James Tissot (French, 1836-1902)
Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue
Here we have Jesus participating in synagogue worship on the pattern of his ancestor Ezra.
1st Reading: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Our first reading is a portion of the report of the priest Ezra’s reading from the “Book of the Law” (probably the Torah) after the return from Exile in Babylon. As the story goes on in chapters 9 and 10, the people engage in fasting and confession and renew the covenant with God. The “Water Gate” was part of the newly rebuilt walls of Jerusalem. The rite takes place outside the Temple, however, which would not yet have been rebuilt. This pattern of reading and interpreting of Scripture would continue and become the core of synagogue worship, and would eventually carry over into Christian worship as well. Nehemiah 8:13-18 is the establishment of the Jewish festival of sukkot, or “booths.”
8:1 All the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. 2 Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. 3 He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. 5 And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. 6 Then Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. Then they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. 8 So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. 9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
The first six verses of Psalm 19 focus on God’s dealings with the creation; verses 7-14 turn to the subject of the Law. The transition from creation to law has led some to believe this originally was two psalms, but the psalmist seems to be saying that the Law is as natural and necessary for human living as the creation is for the natural world.
1 The heavens declare the glory of God, *
and the firmament shows his handiwork.
2 One day tells its tale to another, *
and one night imparts knowledge to another.
3 Although they have no words or language, *
and their voices are not heard,
4 Their sound has gone out into all lands, *
and their message to the ends of the world.
5 In the deep has he set a pavilion for the sun; *
it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber;
it rejoices like a champion to run its course.
6 It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens
and runs about to the end of it again; *
nothing is hidden from its burning heat.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul; *
the testimony of the Lord is sure
and gives wisdom to the innocent.
8 The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart; *
the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever; *
the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold, *
sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.
11 By them also is your servant enlightened, *
and in keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can tell how often he offends? *
Cleanse me from my secret faults.
13 Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me; *
then shall I be whole and sound and innocent of a great offense.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight, *
O Lord , my strength and my redeemer.
Paul has just spoken of the “varieties of gifts but the same Spirit” (12:1-11). He reiterates that at the beginning of this section. The Spirit into which we are baptized trumps our ethnic and social differences. We become one body. He then takes off on this image of the body to talk about the diversity that does still exist among us. The body as a metaphor to talk about how the many function as a whole was well known in Paul’s day. A number of Greco-Roman writers used the metaphor to talk about the functioning of the state. Paul makes a bold claim here, however: “You are the body of Christ.” This is beyond metaphor for Paul. It is a new reality created by baptism.
12:12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior member, 25 that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts.
Gospel Reading: Luke 4:14-21
Here we have Jesus participating in synagogue worship on the pattern of his ancestor Ezra. Many things are going on in this text. Luke is continuing to emphasize that Jesus was a faithful Jew. He is also setting up another theme of his, that Jesus is our primary interpreter of Scripture. Jesus is setting forth his agenda, finding it in Isaiah 61:1, 58:6 & 61:2. The interjection of 58:6 is significant in that it is a reflection on Leviticus 25:8-12, the description of the year of Jubilee. The Year of Jubilee was an every 50-year time of liberation from debt and restoration of status (including lost property). For Jesus, this is what being the Messiah means—to fulfill this liberation today.
4:14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 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, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 “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, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.” 20 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. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved. The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are by Epiphany ESources, E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843,
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Permission is given to copy for group study, with attribution.