“The Spirit of the Lord Is Upon Me”
Ordinary 3 Year C
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Luke 1: 1 — 4 and 4: 14 — 21
Early in the Christian Year, a number of celebrations, reveal our Lord Jesus Christ to the world, in different settings, all helping us, to understand who He is, and, what His purpose is.
First, Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, where He is first revealed to the lowest class of worker: the shepherds, who hasten immediately on being told by the Angel where to find Him.
Second, as part of the Christmas celebration, Jesus is proclaimed to be “The Word made flesh”.
Third, He is seen as a member of a devout Jewish family (which we call the Holy Family) who are proud of and loyal to their heritage.
Fourth, our Lord, as a child, receives honour and tribute from a number of travelling Magi.
Fifth, we observe Jesus being baptised by His cousin John the Baptist, and the descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, while the Father proclaims;
“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
Sixth, we drop in on a wedding at Cana during which Jesus is nudged into the public eye, again (following His baptism) by His Mother.
Seventh, Jesus proclaims clearly and publicly that He is the long-awaited Messiah of Israel.
All of this forms an exciting line-up of events and celebrations each having a powerful message to convey. Our readers will have noticed how detailed our Reflections were, and how carefully annotated, in order to open the full treasury of knowledge contained in the Sacred Scriptures where these events are recorded.
Our current reading which links the opening of St. Luke’s Gospel with the beautiful moment in the Synagogue at Nazareth, is the last in this series of “manifestations” of the Lord. It is the first bold declaration that the Messiah prophesied by Isaiah and all the other Prophets has arrived and taken up His appointed role.
But first, we are presented with the opening verses of St. Luke’s Gospel, which, in fact, underpin the whole of the Gospel text, not just this reading.
St. Luke’s Introduction
Verses 1: 1 — 4
Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of
the events that have been fulfilled among us,
just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning
and ministers of the word have handed them down to us,
I too have decided, after investigating everything
accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence
for you, most excellent Theophilus,
so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you
It is commonly held that St. Luke was not a Jew by birth. He does, however, display a profound knowledge as well as respect for the Jewish Faith and customs. He may even have developed and attachment and attended synagogue services where he possibly met Rabbi Sha-ul, later to be known as St. Paul. Some of the strong disclaimers that he was in any way Jewish are unconvincing and base their case on questionable use of reference texts. Whatever the case, St. Luke wrote for a growing “denomination or sect of Jews” called People of the Way. He certainly became one of them.
St. Luke opens his book in the most sophisticated Greek. The first three verses record his decision to write his account, despite all others which are available. The distinguished scholar Ronald Knox explains:
It is perhaps important to observe the logic of the passage.
Luke is not saying, “There are a great many Gospels already
in existence and therefore I am writing another”; the retort
would be too obvious that there were enough already. The
sense is rather, “If there were just one official Gospel,
authoritatively recognised in the Church and received
everywhere, it might be presumptuous to retell the Gospel
story in my own words. But since there is already a plurality
of Gospels in existence there can be no suggestion of impiety
if I add to their number.”
That passage tells us something about his personal humility and reverence. But it also leads to his reason for writing at all.
Many of us, when asked what reason St. Luke gave, in his Gospel, for writing the document, may have difficulty recalling it. The question may seem irrelevant to the main passage we are studying. The answer, however, is both immediately evident and entirely relevant to the main text:
“….. so that you may realise the certainty of the teachings you
have received.” (Luke 1: 4)
Can we pause for a moment to record what this means?
The Holy Spirit is inspiring His servant scribe, Luke, to record very carefully what the infant Church has already passed on to him. Luke wants to follow this inspiration by the Holy Spirit so that he produces an account which will give testimony to the truth of what the Church has been proclaiming to the world for the past 25 years. And this document will therefore give confidence to its readers that the teaching passed on to them is certain, true and authentic.
We will come back to this later and explain a little more of its significance. Meanwhile, for our Talmidim (our voracious devourers of the Word) we have a short commentary on the relationship of tradition and text, or Tradition and the Scriptures (Appendix).
Jesus Visits the Synagogue at Nazareth
Verses 14 — 16
Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and
news of him spread throughout the whole region.
He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all.
He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went
according to his custom into the synagogue on the
• The Setting
For forty days Jesus had been wandering in the desert, as led by the Holy Spirit, and accosted by Satan. Following this ordeal, as St. Luke tells us, our Lord returned to Galilee, “in the power of the Spirit.”The devil had tried to tempt Jesus with powerful enticements. Now Jesus proclaims something far beyond the pitiful domain of Satan. The reference to the Spirit is in the sense of partnership and presence, not dependence or supervision.
Our setting is the local synagogue where Jesus had grown up. It is helpful to remember that in Judaism, these are places of instruction as well as worship. The design of these places varied quite a bit, but the components remained common to all. Chief of these is the Sanctuary containing especially the Ark, a cupboard where the Sacred Scrolls are kept. In the centre of the auditorium (or further back) is a Bimah a platform with a special stand to hold the Scrolls unrolled for reading aloud. This was placed to ensure all could hear the Sacred Scriptures chanted.
When Jesus stood on the bimah platform or even sat in front of it with the President of the congregation, He was very visible to all.
• Synagogue Services
Jewish services follow a standard pattern. The following items comprised the typical service of that time.
1. Two prayers:— a) The Shema (Deuteronomy 6: 4 — 7 and
11: 13 — 21, together with
Numbers 15: 37 — 41.
See also Luke 10: 27).
b) The Eighteen Blessings of God.
2. Two readings:— a) The Torah (fixed according to an
b) The Haptorah (The Prophets),
often chosen by the reader.
3. Explanation or Homily (Sermon) (See Acts 13: 15)
4. Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6: 22 — 26)
The Christian Eucharist up to the Sermon or Creed has retained this ancient format, based on the synagogue service.
Verse 16b — 19
and went according to his custom into the synagogue
on the sabbath day. He stood up to read
and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled
the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has
anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has
sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of
sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
The actions of Jesus
— In verse 15 we note our Lord had been teaching in the synagogues around
the region, and had impressed the locals with His style and knowledge.
— On this occasion, during a normal visit to the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus
was invited to read from the Sacred Scroll of the Prophets, after the Torah
reading. This meant, of course, chanting the reading in ancient Hebrew.
A translation would also be read in Aramaic which was the local language of
Palestine at that time.
— Normally the large scroll would be partially unrolled on the bimah table
ready for the reader to chant the appointed text for the day. On this occasion,
the official handed Him the scroll indicating He could choose the reading
— Jesus spent a moment surveying the Hebrew text and located the portion He
wanted to read out. It was Isaiah 61: 1 — 2. But we need to know that St. Luke,
writing in the early days of the Church, wrote in Greek, and quoted the Greek
Old Testament (the “Septuagint”), not the Hebrew. Adding to the slight
complexity, Jesus had stopped short of saying the second half of Isaiah 61: 2
and so Luke inserted a clause from Isaiah 58: 6 (“Setting free the oppressed“),
all for the sake of conveying the essence of what Jesus was proclaiming. Some
writers suggested the two quotations from Isaiah may have come from our
Lord’s sermon rather than the precise text chanted.
— However obtained, we have the precise words which Jesus focussed on and
highlighted as His grand entry into the front-line teaching mission which
would last about three years.
The significance of the Messiah’s chosen text
We can be swept along by the power and beauty of this magnificent Scripture quotation — but what did Jesus really mean by proclaiming it? We will find the answer to this question by “distilling” the Hebrew meaning of a Greek script! For the sake of clarity, some elements of the passage will be commented on in a slightly different order from that in the text.
Jesus indicates He has been anointed and sent (verse 18). St. Luke is linking the baptism of Jesus and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Him (Luke 3: 22) with His having been sent. Anointed and sent indicate that the Messiah with the Holy Spirit fully present in Him, has not only been sent (by the Father) but has already arrived and is to be found in the person of Jesus. The first Christians saw the three Persons of the Holy Trinity acting in perfect unity in this event. This is an important understanding in the early Church.
Anointed and sent, Jesus is therefore commissioned: even more, He is consecrated, i.e. set apart to perform His appointed tasks, which are:
+ to bring glad tidings (to preach, proclaim, even pass on);
+ to proclaim liberty and recovery;
+ to let the oppressed go free (to release);
+ to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
Let’s open up each of these just a little:
a) to bring glad tidings to the poor.
Essentially the Messiah will pass on a message of the highest
importance to “the poor”. Who are they?
+ Is it those who are poor because they live their Faith openly
and get persecuted (or at least disadvantaged) by doing so?
+ Is it those who worked or traded honestly and didn’t take
opportunities open to them to charge more when they could
+ Is it those who feel distant from God and want to rebuild a
+ Is it those who take a look at themselves and discover they
seem to have little to offer God except a whole trail of
failings and weaknesses, and things they wish they could
The answer in Hebrew spirituality which Jesus presents, is that the “poor” in His teaching, are all of these. The message of the highest importance Jesus has is for those who yearn for the dawning of the Kingdom of God and whose whole life is spent in one way or another, waiting for “the Word”.
b) To proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind.
If our Lord was using Isaiah to name those in custody to be given their freedom and others, their sight, then He didn’t come to the aid of very many people. There were virtually no prisons (as we know them) and thus no prisoners: it was too costly to keep them. There were blind people, but there again, only very small percentages. So just who was Isaiah talking about — and who is Jesus now addressing?
Our text refers to “captives”, and this is a helpful translation. Jesus, as Messiah, declares He has come to proclaim — in fact, to impart both freedom and liberty. Freedom from what? Liberty for what? Freedom from the heaviness of life, the quagmire that always wants to drag us down. Liberty for living life to the most; being free to live according to the Way God provides in His Teaching.
For this we must also be relieved of our blindness. Our Blessed Messiah removes the scales from our eyes to see as He sees; to regain our sight and insight. In the service of the Lord, it is vital we have the courage to see and understand what is going on around us!
c) To let the oppressed go free.
Again, the Messiah has been commissioned to release the oppressed from their suffering. Does this refer mainly to people subjected to foreign rule? It surely includes them. However, in the Biblical mode of speaking, it includes all who suffer injustice, especially those who can do nothing by themselves to become free. The Messiah also heals all those who turn to Him and acknowledge that in their own spiritual life, they are hopeless and helpless! If anything — the more they try, the worse it becomes! Such a state can be remedied only by the Dispenser of mercy, forgiveness and lovingkindness.
The Messiah claims to be that One — and He is here, NOW to do just that!
d) To proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord
This has always puzzled a lot of readers. It may help to recall that the Greek text talks of ‘the year of the Lord’. The focus is on the One whose year it is. It is the year graciously chosen by God as the era of His favour to humankind. (I. Marshall). It is the Jubilee Year.
In the Torah, in the Book of Leviticus 25: 8 — 55, the key elements of the “Jubilee Year” are recorded. These are now proclaimed as fulfilled in the presence of the Messiah Jesus. God explains His “justification”, if such is needed, that “(all) land is mine, and you are (all) but aliens” (Leviticus 25: 23).
Isaiah spoke of “a year” of the Lord. It is, of course, a metaphor for the whole time from the coming of the Messiah until He returns at the end of time. (“perpetuisdiffusumtemporibus“, St. Ambrose 161.) It is to be a time of special outpouring of grace.
So, in our reading of verse 19, the “acceptable year” is made real and actual. It’s happening, but our Lord’s message is not quite fully delivered as yet.
Verses 20 and 21
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant
and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue
looked intently at him.
He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is
fulfilled in your hearing.”
Having chanted a mere two verses from the Prophet Isaiah, Jesus completed the ritual associated with proclaiming the Sacred Scriptures: He rolled up the Sacred Scroll and handed it back to the officer who had given it to Him. Jesus then sat down either in front of the reading platform (or ‘bimah’) — or He may have sat on the platform as sometimes happened.
All eyes looked on Him apparently in awesome expectation. After all, His reputation for opening the meaning of the Scriptures had preceded Him. They were waiting for His comments. He let it be known He was willing to address the congregation, and He was therefore invited to do so.
We do not know how Jesus expanded the reading. We have written record of only one sentence spoken by Him:
“Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
As they say, “You could have heard a pin drop”. The people were stunned. They knew exactly what He meant by these few words. Their reaction to all this is another story.
For now, what did our Lord mean by saying that everything Isaiah prophesied “is fulfilled“?
Our Gospel text translation gives us a valuable footnote:
Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing:
” ….. this sermon inaugurates the time of fulfillment of
Old Testament prophecy.”
Luke presents the ministry of Jesus as fulfilling Old Testament
hopes and expectations (⇒ Luke 7:22); for Luke, even Jesus’
suffering, death, and resurrection are done in fulfillment of
the scriptures (⇒ Luke 24:25-27, ⇒ 44-46; ⇒ Acts 3:18).
When we examine the text we can say the meaning of our Lord is that what Isaiah prophesied “is being fulfilled”, and will continue in Him. His continuing presence, through the gift of the Spirit in the preaching of prophets and apostles (Ephesians 2: 20) keeps the Divine Word always being felt. (Stuhlmueller quoting Conzelmann).
(For the student of languages, the past tense “is fulfilled” meaning ‘has been
fulfilled or completed’, expresses a past act with ongoing consequences.)
We may find ourselves grappling with the meaning of ‘fulfilled’. Our Lord is serving notice that all the prophecies recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures concerning the coming of the Messiah are now on His agenda for attention. They are “fulfilled” potentially because the Messiah is committed to completing the job. But they will be completed, i.e. fulfilled over a period of time. As we well know, they became a programme set in place from the day of our Lord’s serving notice at Nazareth, which will remain in motion until He returns in glory. They will be accomplished by the Messiah, in union with the Holy Spirit who will work through devoted disciples down through the ages until all is ready for the great Consummation.
In a way, this incident at the Nazareth Synagogue completes our Lord’s transition from long years of preparation into active ministry. After this Sabbath service, “it’s all on!” And in a manner of speaking we could say He brought it on. It was a bold declaration, yet grounded entirely in a short, two verse quotation from a very well known and discussed prophet. It is thus a very beautiful, dignified, yet truly humble proclamation: one we can return to from time to time and plumb its depths. After all we can be a little dumb-struck like His congregation, such is the power behind the words He enunciated slowly and deliberately.
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Let us remember God’s Teaching contained in His Word and in
The Spirit of The Lord Is Upon Me
Ordinary 3 Year C St. Luke 1: 1 — 4 and 4: 14 — 21
1. Jesus Visits the Synagogue at Nazareth
Our Lord is quite at ease when the President of the Synagogue
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
Jesus closes the reading with, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled
2. What are these tasks which point to Jesus as Messiah?
First: to bring glad tidings to the poor: but not just those short
• to those who live their Faith openly and so are persecuted or
Second: to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the
Liberty here means the ability to get the most out of life. It implies
Jesus is also promising to restore the ability to see things as He sees
Third: to let the oppressed go free!
Yes, freedom from foreign oppression — but even more. Our Lord offers
Finally: to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
This is just a Hebraic way of God proclaiming the new Messianic era into
3. “Fulfilled in your hearing”
Many Christians are still in the habit of thinking that “fulfilled” means,
This will continue until the Lord returns at the end of time. Is that a
A common understanding of this leads some people to think we can
Let’s pray for one another that we will follow in His steps with
Luke 4: 14 ― 21
Ordinary Sunday Week 3 Year C
14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and
15 He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all.
16 7 He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went
17 and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, 9 because he has
19 and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
20 Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant
21 He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is
6 News of him spread: a Lucan theme; see ⇒ Luke 4:37; ⇒ 5:15; ⇒ 7:17.
7 [16-30] Luke has transposed to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry an incident from his Marcan source, which situated it near the end of the Galilean ministry (⇒ Mark 6:1-6a). In doing so, Luke turns the initial admiration (⇒ Luke 4:22) and subsequent rejection of Jesus (⇒ Luke 4:28-29) into a foreshadowing of the whole future ministry of Jesus. Moreover, the rejection of Jesus in his own hometown hints at the greater rejection of him by Israel (⇒ Acts 13:46).
8  According to his custom: Jesus’ practice of regularly attending synagogue is carried on by the early Christians’ practice of meeting in the temple (⇒ Acts 2:46; ⇒ 3:1; ⇒ 5:12).
9 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me: see the note on ⇒ Luke 3:21-22. As this incident develops, Jesus is portrayed as a prophet whose ministry is compared to that of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. Prophetic anointings are known in first-century Palestinian Judaism from the Qumran literature that speaks of prophets as God’s anointed ones. To bring glad tidings to the poor: more than any other gospel writer Luke is concerned with Jesus’ attitude toward the economically and socially poor (see ⇒ Luke 6:20, ⇒ 24; ⇒ 12:16-21; ⇒ 14:12-14; ⇒ 16:19-26; ⇒ 19:8). At times, the poor in Luke’s gospel are associated with the downtrodden, the oppressed and afflicted, the forgotten and the neglected (⇒ Luke 4:18; ⇒ 6:20-22; ⇒ 7:22; ⇒ 14:12-14), and it is they who accept Jesus’ message of salvation.
10 Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing: this sermon inaugurates the time of fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Luke presents the ministry of Jesus as fulfilling Old Testament hopes and expectations (⇒ Luke 7:22); for Luke, even Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection are done in fulfillment of the scriptures (⇒ Luke 24:25-27, ⇒ 44-46; ⇒ Acts 3:18).
Luke 1: 1 ― 4
Ordinary Sunday Week 3 Year C
1 1 Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of
2 just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning
3 I too have decided, after investigating everything
4 so that you may realise the certainty of the teachings you
1[1-4] The Gospel according to Luke is the only one of the synoptic gospels to begin with a literary prologue. Making use of a formal, literary construction and vocabulary, the author writes the prologue in imitation of Hellenistic Greek writers and, in so doing, relates his story about Jesus to contemporaneous Greek and Roman literature. Luke is not only interested in the words and deeds of Jesus, but also in the larger context of the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises of God in the Old Testament. As a second- or third-generation Christian, Luke acknowledges his debt to earlier eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, but claims that his contribution to this developing tradition is a complete and accurate account, told in an orderly anner, and intended to provide Theophilus (“friend of God,” literally) and other readers with certainty about earlier teachings they have received.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,