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Epiphany 3 | Ordinary Time 3, Cycle C

The emphasis in Psalm 19 is on the Torah and in Nehemiah 8 on the reading and validation of the Torah. In the Luke 4 text we are taken to a story about Jesus reading from an Israelite/Jewish sacred text, not from the Torah but from the Isaiah traditions.

Psalm 19

Poetically, this psalm emphasizes the value to be gained by living in accordance with the Torah. The value system derived from Torah observance is to be desired far more than precious materials such as gold and the sweetest food such as honey. Those who are wise will understand, respond appropriately, and be blameless. These words and actions have been and continue to be celebrated by Jews throughout the ages. They are vitally important also to us.

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

This text reports a highly significant reading of the Torah by Ezra with commentary upon the text provided by the Levites. The deliberate, public reading of the Torah, the assembly of the religious leadership as witnesses, the explanations provided by the Levites, and the joyous acceptance of the authority of the Torah are indications that this text is meant to describe the process by which the Torah was formally validated as inspired, revealed, and authoritative sacred Scripture, “Word of God” for the Israelites. From this point on, the lives of the Israelites and Jews were to be guided by this written Word.

Ezra’s opening the document in the sight of all of the people and reading from it (Nehemiah 8:5) may have been one of the many ideas that the writer of the Gospel According to Luke with inspired creativity used and adapted from the Septuagint. Like Ezra the scribe opening the Torah and reading from it in the Nehemiah 8:5 text, Jesus was depicted by the Lukan writer in Luke 4:14-21 as opening the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and reading from it in the synagogue in Nazareth.

Luke 4:14-21

Comparison of Luke 4:14-30 with its antecedent in Mark 6:1-6a reveals how freely the inspired Lukan writer reshaped the Markan tradition in order to produce, as the Lukan writer in the Luke 1:1-4 preface puts it, “a more excellent account of the things that have happened among us.”

The most important written resources used by the Lukan writer here were obviously Mark 6:1-6a, Isaiah 61:1-2, and Isaiah 58:6. The Lukan writer moved Jesus’ return to his own region in Mark 6:1-6a to the earliest period of Jesus’ public activity, and left the disciples of Jesus out of the picture. The Lukan writer added that it was Jesus’ custom to go to the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth on the Sabbath day. The Lukan writer also provided the text for the Lukan Jesus to read, a combination of two portions of the Isaiah tradition, Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:6.

The dramatic scene developed by the Lukan writer of pride by the people of Nazareth in this “hometown boy” that turned into vicious hatred and attempted lynching of Jesus supplies “in a nutshell” a look at the entirety of the Luke-Acts composition. Certainly Luke 4:14-30 is more vivid and consequently more memorable than Mark 6:1-6a and has been much more significant within the Church, just as the Gospel According to Luke as a whole has been more significant than the Gospel According to Mark. Unfortunately, however, in this instance the anti-Jewish polemic was also increased greatly in the Lukan writer’s reshaping of the Markan tradition, as it was increased elsewhere by the Lukan writer.

As we apply these texts to our own specific life situations, it will be appropriate to concentrate on the Luke 4:14-21 portion that has been selected in our lectionary and on the mission of the Church today. According to these texts, we too should feel that the Spirit of the Lord is upon us, as the Spirit of the Lord was upon the prophet of the Isaiah 61 and 58 traditions and as the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jesus. We too in our times are anointed “to proclaim freedom to the oppressed,” “to announce that those who have been in bondage shall be released and those who have been blinded shall see, to send out from captivity those whose spirits have been broken,” and “to announce the time of the favorable action of the Lord.”

These scriptures are fulfilled in our time when we as people of God in the name of Jesus Christ put these words of Isaiah 61:1-2, Isaiah 58:6, and Luke 4:18-19 into action. This is our responsibility as parts of the Body of Christ in the world. We are called to be players and player-coaches, not spectators and bystanders in this process.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

The somewhat continuous reading of 1 Corinthians texts during most of the Epiphany season continues here with little direct connection with the other readings for next Sunday. Through Baptism and the Eucharist it is said that all who are members of the Body of Christ have valid and very important functions. How much more grievous then is our current situation in the Church in which in so many instances sectarian Baptists are hurting other Baptists, sectarian Lutherans are hurting other Lutherans, sectarian Episcopalians are hurting other Episcopalians, and sectarian Roman Catholics are hurting other Roman Catholics! How foreign are the actions of these to the Word of God that the sectarians like to use as a weapon rather than as a means of God’s grace.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen