This text includes two sections. First, comes the introduction (Luke 4:14-15) to Luke's entire account of Jesus ministry in Galilee (Luke 4:14-9:50). Second, Luke 4:16-21 falls in an account of Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30). Luke in broad outline follows Mark's account of Jesus ministry in Galilee (Mark 1:14-9:39). However, Luke has Jesus preaching immediately following his baptism (no connection with John the baptist as found in Mark and Matthew) and accompanying the coming of the Spirit on Jesus. So he begins his first book (Luke's gospel) with an emphasis on the coming of the Spirit on Jesus. Luke's second book (Acts) focuses on the Spirit coming at Pentecost at the beginning of the church (Acts 2:1-13). Luke wants to get this synagogue visit with Jesus preaching near the beginning of his gospel.
Luke has Jesus remaining in Galilee for sometime unlike Mark's story of Jesus. Luke has no visits outside Galilee until much later. Mark's Galilean section includes visits outside Galilee (Tyre and Sidon). Luke's scene in the Nazareth synagogue comes before Mark's telling the story (Mark 6:1-6). Matthew 13:53-58 also has a portion of this Lukan story much later. (See pieces of the story in John 4:44; 6:42; 7:15; 10:39.)
Luke makes it clear that Jesus was already preaching and was well received by those outside Nazareth (Luke 4:14-15). However, after our text we will learn that Jesus is not well received by the Nazarenes.
Our text has Jesus following the usual custom of reading the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible while standing and then sitting to make comment. This was ceretainly the normal practice at that time. So Jesus is doing what all adult males did on a regular basis in going to the synagogue. Our attention is on Jesus unrolling the scroll and selecting a portion of Isaiah (at the beginning Isaiah 61:1-2; then Isaiah 58:6). The reference from the Isaiah reading to "the year of the Lord's favor" refers to the year of jubilee and restoration (Leviticus 25:8-12).
This inaugural event in Nazareth evokes very different responses from the hearers. On the one end there are those who have respect if not awe and on the other end those who desire to "hurl him off the cliff (Luke 4:29)." Next Sunday's lectionary reading (Luke 4:21-30) includes the final hostile response. This is more the reception characterized in Luke as from his own people.
Jesus commented on the fact that the Spirit was upon him, something that might have drawn the ire of many Nazarenes. After all Jesus is merely the son of Joseph (Luke 4:22) to many of those hearers. It is implied, and certainly is in the Isaiah text, that since that Spirit was upon him he was to a) "bring good news to the poor," b) "release to the captives," c) "recovery of sight to the blind," and d) "let the oppressed go free." All of this was in the context of proclaming the year of jubilee. So if Jesus affirmation of being embolded by the Spirit was not enough consternation to many Nazarenes, certainly dealing with the poor, captives, blind, and oppressed sealed the case against him. It is doubtful that many of those groups were present in the synagogue! And remember Jesus selected this text from the scroll.
This Jesus who selected the Isaiah reading is the one Luke calls us to follow. Do we see many of those groups whom Jesus was to address among us today in our sanctuaries? Are we making solid efforts to respond to those from the groups mentioned in Isaiah 61 and with whom Jesus surrounded himself? Are we in our silence all too frequently hurling Jesus off the cliff? These are hard questions that Luke placed before his readers and now places before us today.