Luke 4:14-21 (online here)
Luke tells us that Jesus went to the local synagogue every Sabbath, and in this reading we hear what happened when he preached at his hometown synagogue.
There are two crucial points to notice:
First, he reads a passage from Isaiah to describe his own ministry:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Isaiah 61:1-2a, Luke’s translation).
Jesus does not say he’s here to save disembodied souls after they die. He’s here to make liberating, healing difference to embodied people here and now, before they die. What happens when we die matters, but it’s secondary. That’s the first crucial point.
Here’s the second, something I never noticed until recently. It’s not what Jesus did choose to read from Isaiah, but what he chose not to read.
You see, Isaiah doesn’t stop with “to proclaim the year of the Lord‘s favor.” If you keep reading, Isaiah says, “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God.”
Jesus chose not to read that phrase about vengeance. Why? It just didn’t fit his experience of the God whose very life he embodied. So he used his Bible selectively.
By the way, this is not an example of Jesus vs. Judaism or Jesus vs. the “Old” Testament. Rabbis of Jesus’ day used this strategy too, and so did writers of Jesus’ Bible. They used earlier writings selectively, in light of their own experience of God.
Example: Jonah says, “You are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing” (Jonah 4:2). He’s quoting Exodus 34:6-7, but he quotes it selectively. Here’s the full passage: “The Lord passed before [Moses], and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’” Jonah left out the vindictive part, because it did not fit his experience of God. (Also, it seems a bit self-contradictory: “forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” vs. “by no means clearing the guilty”—which is it?) So Jesus is following the book of Jonah’s example. (Jonah was actually complaining that God was too forgiving! But the book is poking fun at Jonah’s attitude.)
They both seem to be hinting that some parts of the Bible just shouldn’t be passed on—especially the parts that portray God as vindictive.
Why are so many Christians so slow to notice that?