Luke 4:14-21 – In the Power of the Spirit

“Why does the Church use this story in the Epiphany cycle? Epiphany means that something shows forth itself as it really is. What is it that will be shown forth by Luke that will offer us something of value for the church in the 21st. century?

“Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit.” Verse14. Looking back over the chapter we see what Luke wants us to see. In verse1 Jesus was “full of the Holy Spirit” when he returned from the Jordan, that is, when he emerged from his Baptism. Immediately, he was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. The devil who possesses nothing, wants to give Jesus everything.  This is the temptation: to give up fullness for emptiness. To give up what one is in order to become what one is not. The devil wants to deprive Jesus of his divinity with the intention of weakening his humanity, and consequently cause Jesus to lose himself. What does it profit a person to gain the whole world and lose his own soul, that is, himself?  Jesus full of the  Spirit defeats the devil. Luke intends to tell us that everything that Jesus does is under the direction of the Spirit. From there on, Jesus does everything in a normal way. He goes home, he goes to the synagogue on the Sabbath.

At Sabbath service, Jesus reads a passage from Isaiah 61. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” This is the theme that Luke wants to present. Jesus says that “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke is the only Evangelist to use Isaiah 61 in this way. Why? Jesus is saying that what is scripture is now standing in your presence. Scripture has become present in me. I am the Word for which you were waiting. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, and that means now, today, God’s presence is identical to Jesus’ presence. Luke is telling us: history has become eschatology. The end is not far ahead into the future. The past and the future have become the present. Today! Jesus brings the future into the here and now. The Kingdom of God has come.

Why does Luke raise the issue of fulfillment? The early church was concerned about issues of faith and the foundation of faith. By putting these words into the mouth of Jesus, Luke is saying that here is a foundation for addressing matters of faith. The letters of Paul point in the same direction. Fulfillment is not a word that is used casually or lightly. It intends to announce that the will of God is to be found in the activity of Jesus. Theologically, Jesus is the eschatological event of God that proclaims that God is active today on behalf of the salvation of people. This is an eschatology of urgency, now is the time. Luke’s eschatology has Jesus standing in the middle of time invoking the divine to deliver the captives, to set at liberty those who are bound. Where the preaching of the Divine is heard today there is good news for the poor; release for the captives; recovery of sight to the blind; liberty of the oppressed; the acceptable year of the Lord, that is, the time of salvation.

In the Gospel of Matthew 11:2-6, when John the Baptist wanted to know about the work of Jesus, this is what he was told: the blind receive their sight; the lame walk; lepers are cleansed; the deaf hear; the dead are raised up; the poor have the good news. “Blessed is he who takes not offense at me.” I have come to seek and to save that which was lost.

Jesus is the salvation of the world. In the story of Zacchaeus, when Jesus entered his house, Jesus says, “Today salvation has come to this house…for the son of man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:9.

One more thing needs to be explored if we pursue the theme of fulfillment. What ties the OT and the NT together is the idea of the Messiah. The Messiah stands astride history drawing past and future together into the present which fulfills the will of the Divine. John’s eschatology is more explicit, “Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to me.” Paul says in Romans 1:16, that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for those who have faith. “In the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed through faith and for faith.”  The power of the Messiah is a characteristic feature of eschatology. What is important about power (dunamis) is not what it holds within itself, but what it reveals about the holder. Just as Luke wants to proclaim that everything that Jesus does is under the direction of the Spirit, so also he wants to reveal that everything that Jesus does is under the power of the Spirit. Going back to the birth stories, Mary is told that “the power of the Holy Spirit will overshadow you.” Luke 1:35. In 4:14, Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit. In 4:36, Jesus has both authority and power. It is the power that allows him to exercise his authority. Dunamis is the essence of the Divine. To be endowed with the Divine is to be endowed with power. But this power is the place where eschatology intersects with existence. In the story of Luke 8, it is said that “power has gone forth from me” – by the power of human touch. In Luke 5 we are told that the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal. In Luke 6 the crowds wanted to touch Jesus because in touching him power came forth from him to heal them.

Luke reveals Jesus as the one in whom the presence of the Divine shines forth in power to bring healing and salvation to the people with such a sense of urgency that the future is brought immediately into the present, “Now is the day of salvation!” “Today this scripture is fulfilled!” “”Today, if you hear his voice.” He who is the Alpha and the Omega makes the present an Omega moment, in the Omega the end is the beginning returning to itself, the Omega revealing itself not as a distant future but as the Kingdom of God that has dawned, as the Kingdom of God that keeps on dawning whenever in our hearing the scripture is fulfilled, the Word now becomes flesh, the gospel of the power of God unto salvation.

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