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Jesus’ Focus on the Poor and Marginalized in Luke – Based on Luke 4 – 16-30
Jesus’ first speech in the synagogue of Nazareth, recorded in Luke 4:16-30, marked the arrival of His mission to “bring good news to the poor.” This essay seeks to focus on this key event and explore the Lukan focus of Jesus’ ministry on His interactions, care and actions for the poor in the Gospel.
Strauss (1995) states that it is almost universally accepted that Jesus’ first sermon in Nazareth was programmatically important to the Gospel of Luke. Indeed, all the commentators cited in this essay argue that Luke is particularly focused on highlighting the plight of the marginalized, indeed Moyter (1995) declares that John’s Gospel, for example, shows “no interest in the poor.” (p. 70). Strauss (1995) promulgates the idea that Jesus actually says in the Nazareth Sermon that he is a “messianic preacher” both announcing and fulfilling God’s eschatological salvation. (p. 221).
This essay will initially focus on the theology related to the story of the rejection of the synagogue in Nazareth before detailing some of the works of Jesus highlighted in the Gospel of Luke that demonstrate His interest in liberating the poor. Furthermore, the use of the word poor in this essay must be taken in a broader context, as expressed by Green (1993, 1994) and others, of the socially excluded.
THE THEOLOGY OF LUKE 4:16-30 AND THEREFORE UNION BIBLE
Strauss (1995) emphasizes Jesus’ analogies in vv. 25-27 in relation to Elijah and Elisha – their actions in these verses in blessing the Gentiles – that His public activity would center around the outsider, for example, the sinner, publicans, women, rams, children and Gentiles; most categorically in seeking out the Gentile population. Although Strauss (1995) points to this messianic call to redeem “the ‘outcasts’ of the gospel”, he stops short of saying emphatically that these verses indicate “God’s rejection of Israel”. (p. 223). Up to this point, the passages suggest that the Nazareth congregation was simply amazed at Jesus’ words. However, in verse 28 we learn that they “were filled with rage” in response to Jesus comparing himself to these prophets.
Strauss (1995) points out a strong theological connection to the books of Isaiah (prophecy) and Luke and Acts (fulfillment), for example referring to “light and darkness, blindness and sight” in relation to healing and human liberation. those in “prison”. (p. 237). Indeed, both Luke and Acts have internal connections with Isaiah (Strauss, 1995).
The quotation from Isaiah in Luke 4:16-30 turns out to be the most interesting. Hertig (1998) explains this as the rationale for the congregation’s “surprised” responses. He tells us that the framework Jesus used to quote Isaiah 61 and 58 was that He both proclaims Yahweh’s freedom to the oppressed, but stops short of quoting the second half of Isaiah 61:2 – “and the day of vengeance of our God” – meaning that the Jews expecting the Messiah to do just that is incorrect (also in Strauss, 1995). It is worth noting that Hertig (1998) quotes Prior (1995) in saying that the combined use of Isaiah 61 and 58 “emphasizes the social dimension of the prophetic message [providing] a striking correction to any religious practice that is carried out without concern for the poor, and especially when the religious practice continues to oppress them.” (p. 168). Strauss (1995) expands on Jesus’ “perspective as a “royal messianic portrait” by painting the picture that Christ did not be the kind of Savior that Jewish tradition really expects. (p. 198).
Strauss (1995) agrees that the church of Nazareth we are both surprised and hurt by the words of Jesus. However, Hertig (1998) argues that although Jesus sees the church’s response as outright rejection, it is actually a positive response. This event is a “transitional stage in the life and ministry of Jesus”. (p. 168). Green (1995) mentions that Jesus says “I” three times in the passage. Hertig (1998) highlights Jesus’ intention to install anniversary as originally referred to in Genesis 25 as part of the messianic mission – “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” and the phrase “sent me to proclaim release to the captives”. However, Strauss (1995) argues that while the theme of the Jubilee may not be central to Lukan’s message, he suggests that eschatologically it applies to “liberation from Satan’s torment”. (p. 221).
In the text of the passage, Hertig (1998) shows that Jesus is not only “the bringer of good news to the poor, but also the deliverer of the poor in their suffering.” (p. 172). Furthermore, this leads him to assume that liberation is holistic in nature – bringing spiritual, physical, socio-political and psychological freedom to the oppressed (Hertig, 1998).
The poor in Luke’s context are presented in Old Testament terms as “people of both social and religious humility.” (Hertig, 1998, p. 173). This shows us that the poor are not only economically poor, but those who are “victims of the unjust structures of society”. (p. 173).
Green (1994) points out that in no less than six different places we see the word “poor” used in the Gospel of Luke. However, he is quick to point out that the word is used in quite different contexts to refer to many different kinds of suffering, including: the oppressed, the sad, the hungry, the persecuted, and some different forms of the physically disabled.
OF THE CARES OF JESUS
Based on the previous discussion, it is clear that the Gospel of Luke describes the core of Jesus’ activity to liberate the marginalized in society. Green (1995) again shows Luke describing Jesus as “constantly in the company of those on the margins of society”. (p. 84). This section discusses the actual implementation of theology through some of the examples that Luke brings us.
The story of Jesus and Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10) is timely in using the “rich man” paradigm shown to us by Hertig (1998). Zacchaeus is shown giving away half of his possessions and paying back four times what he owes to others. Zacchaeus’ act effectively demonstrates the “jubilee theme” – the distribution of wealth to the poor – and he receives a succinct blessing from Jesus. (p. 175). Seccombe (1983) shows how Luke skillfully places the story of Zacchaeus after the story of the blind beggar (chapter 18), showing Jesus’ deep concern for the salvation of all the alienated from God, the rich. and bad; socially excluded. Luke aims to show that both Zacchaeus and the blind beggar are equal in the kingdom of God (Seccombe, 1983).
In the parable of the great supper (Luke 14:15-24), Hertig (1998) presents the use of jubilee language further. The eschatological significance of this parable is profound. Not only will those invited to the dinner decline the invitation, but once the new invitees are invited, everyone on the original list who shows up to the dinner will be rejected! In verse 21, Luke quotes Jesus, referring to others called “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the crippled,” concluding that the “outcasts” of society would benefit from another call to all.
Impressive evidence of Jesus’ ministry to a marginalized group of women is another recurring theme in the Gospel of Luke. Green (1995) presents nine key passages in Luke in which women are presented in a positive light, restored to life by repenting of sin, benefactors of the Lord, and even “God’s presiding officers” like Mary and Elizabeth in the birth narrative. Indeed, in the resurrection account, women are blessed to witness events and believe much more easily than his disciples initially did. This shows the women in a much more godly light than the men – “Their faithful witness is contradicted by the response of the male disciples.” (Green, 1995, p. 93).
Hertig (1998) states “The theme of Luke’s jubilee about the rich and the poor is a promise to the poor and a challenge to the rich.” (p. 176). I have used this essay to highlight the Lukan message of Jesus’ ministry to the marginalized of society, framing it eschatologically in conjunction with the theme of the 25th Jubilee of Moses; evidence of which was lacking in Old Testament times (Hertig, 1998).
Green (1994) shows that Luke focused on opening the way to understand that Jesus’ mission was and is and will be one “declaration”[ing] release to the captives’ and give[ing] the oppressed shall go free” to their eternal salvation.
DeSilva, DA, Introduction to the New Testament: contexts, methods and the formation of ministry. (InterVarsity, Downers Grove, Illinois, 2004)
Green, JB ‘Good news for whom? Jesus and the “poor” in the Gospel of Luke 59-74 Jesus of Nazareth: Lord and Christ: Essays on the Historical Jesus and New Testament Christology. (Eds. JB Marshall and M. Turner. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.)
Green, JB, New Testament Theology: The Theology of the Gospel of Luke. (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995.)
Hendrickx, H., The Third Gospel for the Third World – Part 2-A. (Claretian Publications, Philippines, 1997)
Hertig, P., Jesus’ Jubilee Mission in Luke’s Gospel: Turns of Fortune in Missiology: An International ReviewVolume XXVI, April 2, 1998.
Motyer, S., “Jesus and the Marginalized in the Fourth Gospel” 70-89 Mission and Meaning: Essays Presented to Peter Cotterell. (Paternoster Press, Carlisle, 1995.)
Seccombe, DP, Studien zum Neuen Testament und seiner Umwelt – Wealth and the poor in the Acts of Luke. (Prof. DDr A. Fuchs, Linz, 1983.)
Strauss, ML, David’s Messiah in the Acts of Luke: The Promise and Its Fulfillment (sic) in Lukan Christology. (Sheffield Academic Press, Sheffield, England, 1995.)
Willoughby, R. ‘The Concept of Jubilee in Luke 4:14-30’ 41-55 in Mission and Meaning: Essays Presented to Peter Cotterell. (Paternoster Press, Carlisle, 1995.)
All Bible Verses Referenced are taken from the New Revised Standard Version, Zondervan ISBN 0-310-90236-3.
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