Another one of my favorite moments in the Gospel of Luke is when Jesus teaches in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. He’s just emerged from the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13) where he faced temptations. Luke records that Jesus returned “in the power of the spirit.” He was gaining popularity, teaching in all the synagogues, and everyone was praising him.
Then he got back to his hometown, Nazareth.
On the Sabbath, Jesus goes into the synagogue, and is asked to teach. He opens the scroll to Isaiah and stands up to read (fascinating that this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus reading; even more fascinating that a carpenter peasant could read). Here’s the passage he goes to:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me
because he has anointed me.
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim for the captives release,
and the recovery of sight for the blind,
to send forth the oppressed in release;
To proclaim the year of our Lord’s favor.” Is. 58:6; 61:1-2
As theologian Joel Green points out, paramount to Luke’s theology is this idea of release. By selected this Isaiah passage, Jesus was proclaiming release…from sin, from blindness, from oppression, and from captivity. The most important part of release is forgiveness. Luke is presenting Jesus as the Savior who forgives sin for all of humanity.
There is a second layer to this idea of release. The “year of release,” called the Jubilee, in Leviticus 25:10 was a year that came once every 50 years, where property was returned to original owners, debts were cancelled, and Jews who had managed their debts by selling themselves into slavery were set free. In this epic announcement in Nazareth, Luke is announcing that through Jesus, a new and final Jubilee, in which all debts are forgiven, and all people are released once and for all in a kind of final and never ending Jubilee….
And then there’s a third part to it. 🙂 Every healing account in Luke is portrayed as a release from the power of Satan. In Luke 13, Jesus heals a woman and says “ought not this woman, this daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for 18 years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath?” This is not merely a physical release from sickness, it is a spiritual release from the entangling power of Satan.
In Jesus there is a release from sin, through the radical forgiveness and grace that he brings. In Jesus there is a release from the powers of Satan, once and for all. In Jesus there is release from debt, in a kind of final and never ending year of Jubilee. In Jesus there is release from the social and cultural barriers which prevent outsiders from being a part of the people of God.
He has come to proclaim release.