Luke 4:18, 19; Luke 1:46-55; 4:16-21; 7:18-23; Matt 12:15-21; 21:12-16; Mark 11:15-19; Is 53:3-6
The leading missiologist of the twentieth century, David Bosch, states that Luke 4:16-21 has replaced Matthew’s Great Commission as the key text for understanding Christ’s own mission and that of the church. Bosch further reflects that Luke’s unique concept of mission towards the poor has especially been recognized in conciliar (ecumenical) and liberation theologies.
What this means is that the “mission towards the poor” has often led to a more “social gospel” aspect of Church ontology in Catholic and the more mainline Protestant churches. Under this humanitarian aid, the deeper aspects of church ministry, which seek to not only deal with the physical and social well-being of the individual but with the inner healing and renewal of the spiritual self, is often leeched out.
It is the purpose of this commentary to outline the significance of Luke’s mission statement, how its meaning is reflected both in the book of Acts and the Old Testament, and its impact on the church’s current self-understanding of its own ministry and mission.
Bosch, along with others, also sees Luke 4:16-30 as a “preface” and a “condensed version” of the gospel as a whole. In a major article by a European scholar, Neirynck sets forth that “there are a number of good reasons to justify the choice of Lk 4:16-30, widely held to be programmatic for Luke-Acts.” He asserts that the decisive reason for making this pericope programmatic is its powerful parallels with similar stories in the book of Acts.
The following table outlines some of the parallels between the beginning of the ministry of Jesus after His baptism and the preaching of Paul after his conversion.
Among the stories in Acts which parallel the Lukan story at Nazareth are the beginning of Paul’s ministry at Damascus (Acts 9:19b-25), the start of the first missionary journey to Cyprus in the power of the Spirit (Acts 13:1-12), and Paul’s first missionary speech in the synagogue of Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:14-52). The themes of Luke 4:16-30 are also reflected in the speeches of Peter at Pentecost (2:17-40), in the Temple (3:11-26), and at Cornelius’ house (10:34-33). Finally, Luke seems to bind the beginning of the ministry of Jesus with the end of Acts.
Both Luke 4 and Acts 13 specifically tell us that Jesus and Paul came to the synagogue on the Sabbath day and addressed the congregation after the reading of the Law. The initial reaction to both Jesus and Paul was positive. In the synagogue at Nazareth “all spoke well of him” (Luke 4:22) and at Antioch of Pisidia “the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath” (Acts 13:42).
In both instances this initial favorable reaction is then followed by hostility. The congregation turns on Jesus when He tells two stories about how God bypassed the children of Israel and exercised His miraculous power on behalf of the Gentiles at the time of Elijah and Elisha. In a similar way, Paul’s return to the synagogue on the next Sabbath is met by a hostile crowd who are “filled with jealousy,” probably over Paul’s preaching on the previous week that the Law of Moses could not justify them.
Having been rejected by the Jews, Paul now turns to the Gentiles who were made “glad and honored the word of the Lord” (Acts 13:48). Paul’s missionary activity reflects back to how God turned from the Jews and ministered to the Gentiles at the time of Elijah and Elisha as noted in Luke 4. This same pattern of going to the Jew first and then to the Gentiles is again repeated at Iconium. The end of Paul’s ministry in Acts 28 has also been seen as comparing and contrasting with the beginning of Jesus in Luke 4 and his ministry in Acts 13.
From this initial survey of the influence of Luke 4 on the ministries of Jesus and Paul, it can be seen that the “poverty” they were trying to alleviate went far deeper than assuaging mere physical hunger. As the Spirit moved upon both Jesus and Paul, the same deep conversion is exhibited in their own lives, which is then spread in earnest words and ministry to others who are hungering and thirsting after righteousness.
Luke uses the word “poor” and associate terms more often than Matthew and Mark. Already in the Magnificat, Mary sings that God “has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Luke 1:53). In the preaching of John the Baptist, he exhorts the crowd to be both fair and generous in their dealings with one another (Luke 3:10-14). And when Luke gives a list of people who suffer, he either “puts the poor at the head of the list (cf 4:18; 6:20; 14:13; 14:21) or at the end, as a climax (as in 7:22)” (Bosch).
The reaction to Christ’s sermon in Nazareth was immediate and heart-felt. Christ’s searching words which illuminated their own spiritual poverty along with the references to God turning from Israel to heal the Gentiles at the time of Elijah and Elisha enraged the congregation. The coming forward to the altar was not for repentance but to cast out the carpenter’s son. The physical expelling him from their midst reflected their desire to remove Him from their hearts.
This same theme of rejection is repeated many times within the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. But the missional purpose of God is not deterred by the initial refusal by many to follow the Master in discipleship. Jesus goes forth to call disciples who will continue the faithful obedience to the covenant which was ordained to restore humankind to the image of God. May we each sense our own soul poverty that the riches of His grace can overflow to others.
Pastor Jim Park is currently living in Southern California as a retired Pastor and Seminary Professor. He teaches online for Loma Linda University and consults on Mission Projects and Research for the world-wide Church.
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