Lectionary Reflection: Epiphany 3 – Neh 8:1-10; Ps 19; Luke 4:14-21

In this week’s reading from Luke, Jesus has returned to his home region, Galilee, “filled with the power of the Spirit.” Luke tells us that his homecoming made quite the impression—“a report about his spread throughout…”

The excitement does not end, as Jesus then began to teach and preach in the synagogues as he traveled through Galilee. Eventually, he arrived in his hometown, Nazareth, and is received as a teacher on the Sabbath in the synagogue. As he read from Isaiah 61 (“The spirit of the Lord is upon me… to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor”), and then sat down, “the eyes of all… were fixed on him.”

The air in the synagogue must have been electrified, especially as Jesus ended the episode, saying, “Today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

It would be easy to this passage as a triumphant homecoming for Jesus. But we know that’s not the case. In just a few verses, the crowd will rise against him and force him to leave town.

Reading this episode in Luke, with its the embedded lines from Is. 61, alongside our reading from Nehemiah, the emphasis shifts to the Law that Jesus has fulfilled. In Nehemiah 8, the returned exiles (almost 50,000 Israelites and their servants) have gathered with Ezra and the governor Nehemiah at the square at the Water Gate. As Ezra reads the Law and interprets it for the assembly, the people wept. The people felt condemned and not strengthened by the Law. But Ezra and Nehemiah instruct the people to rejoice at the law and to celebrate, “for this day is holy to our Lord… the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Consider also this week’s Psalm (19). In it, the psalmist sings that “the law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.” The perfect Law, of course, condemns. But the psalmist understands this as a cure, not a punishment. “Clear me from hidden faults.” The Law is a medicine; it does not kill, but rather revives the patient.

The psalmist likens the Law to the sun. God lays the cosmos out before the sun as if a setting for a wedding. And the heat of the sun reaches everything. Likewise, the power and effects of the Law reach all.

Perhaps it would be instructive to read Jesus’ revelation at the end of the passage in Luke in light of Nehemiah, Ezra, and the psalmist’s understand of the holy but therapeutic Law. For, in the words of Isaiah 61, Jesus comes to empower the powerless, those enslaved, exiled, and blind. Jesus restores freedom and vision. Jesus fulfills the Law, because, in his person, he brings the comfort and curative Law of the psalmist.

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