Epiphany 3C (27 January 2013)



  • Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 and Psalm 19
  • 1Corinthians 12:12-31a
  • Luke 4:14-21



This week sees the lectionary cycle move into the main body of narrative material in Luke for the first time since the Year of St Luke began on Advent Sunday. Until this point, the selection of Gospels has been determined by the seasonal requirements of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. After skipping the story of the Temptation (Luke 4:1-13) so that we can return to it for the First Sunday in Lent, the following portions of Luke will be used in the next few weeks:

  • Epiphany 3 — Luke 4:14-21
  • Epiphany 4 — Luke 4:21-30
  • Epiphany 5 — Luke 5:1-11
  • Epiphany 6 — Luke 6:17-26
  • Epiphany 7 — Luke 6:27-38, or
  • Transfiguration — Luke 9:28-36(37-43)

Noting the passages selected for use also alerts us to those portions of Luke that are excluded from the lectionary cycle:

In some cases these are omitted because they duplicate passages used last year (Mark) or the previous year (Matthew). However, some passages are deemed worthy of public reading in more than one of the three annual cycles, while a few passages in each Gospel are never selected for reading.

Thanks to Jenee Woodard of TextWeek.com and Andee Zetterbaum, we now have the benefit of an Excel spreadsheet with the RCL, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Methodist lectionaries keyed to Bible passages so that we can easily check when a particular Bible passage occurs in the lectionary.


Jesus first day at work

The four NT Gospels each describe Jesus’ “first day on the job” rather differently.


Matthew is content simply to tidy up a few theological embarrassments that he found in Mark’s account:

  • Jesus is no longer a carpenter, but rather the carpenter’s son.
  • Jesus is not described as “the son of Mary,” removing any social stigma that formulation might suggest.
  • Jesus’ inability to perform deeds of power in his hometown is qualified, and the cause is laid on the unbelief of the Nazareth population.


Luke develops the story as a formal inauguration of Jesus’ mission, creating a story that has a role in his Gospel that parallels the role of the Pentecost legend in Acts:

  • Luke’s Jesus is a rather more conventional character, whose “custom” was to attend Sabbath services in the local synagogue.
  • This Jesus is literate, and functions as a respected synagogue member, even taking his turn at reading the Scriptures.
  • Here Jesus explicitly claims that the prophetic texts are being fulfilled in himself, right there that very day.
  • Rather than being offended at his interpretation of the Scriptures, “all spoke well of him.”
  • Jesus is identified as “Joseph’s son” and the low status occupation of carpenter (Gk: tekton) is expunged from the account.
  • There is no mention of his mother, brothers or sisters.
  • Jesus actually provokes his own rejection by an otherwise positive audience when he preempts any request for miracles and identifies his listeners with the recalcitrant Israelites from the times of Elijah and Elisha.
  • Predictably, Luke then described a mob rampage that almost resulted in Jesus being thrown of a (non-existent) cliff in Nazareth except that by force of his own charisma he calmly walked through their midst and escaped the danger.

Central to all these accounts is the well-attested saying:

No prophet is welcome on his home turf;
doctors don’t cure those who know them. [Complete Gospels]

This saying is known from Thomas, Mark, Luke and John and seems independent of this specific episode. It doubtless preserves a memory of Jesus’ personal experience of rejection by his own nation, whether not these words were actually spoken by him.

The following simple questions may be helpful in reading these texts closely:

  • WHO? (note the characters in the story)
  • WHAT? (check the events and the flow of the story)
  • WHERE? (at what locations are the events said to occur?)
  • WHEN? (what times and sequences are involved?)
  • WHY? (what explanations are offered or suggested?)

It seems reasonable to suggest that Matthew, John and Luke have each chosen to give Jesus a suitably auspicious commencement to his public activity:

  • Matthew elaborates Mark’s simple description with prophetic texts to vaidate a GALILEAN ministry by Jesus, and a ministry (by his followers) to the GENTILES (cf. also the adoration of the foreign Magi in 2:1-12 and the risen Lord sending his disciples to make disciples of all nations in 28:19-20).
  • John develops a series of days during which a wider circle of people gradually become aware of his significance, but locates all this in Judea. John the Baptist testifies to Jesus’ significance. First Andrew and Peter, and then Philip and Nathanael, become disciples of Jesus. Jesus — “the son of Joseph from Nazareth” — is to be recognised on the basis of the divine powers he will display as the Gospel unfolds.
  • Luke provides a formal launch of the Jesus mission in the synagogue of his hometown, Nazareth. The scene reflects liturgical practices that were doubtless known to the author and his readers, but probably bears little resemblance to any prayer gathering ever held in Nazareth during the life of Jesus. In keeping with Luke’s concern for social propriety in other parts of Luke-Acts, here we see Jesus announcing his mission and invoking the ancient Jewish Scriptures as his warrant. The sceptical audience — as Luke will often show in his extended narrative — turns into an unruly rabble; while the hero (Jesus in this case, but disciples in other places within Luke-Acts) displays classical fortitude and conducts himself with admirable restraint. This is the kind of man Luke’s respectable audience can respect!


Jesus according to Luke

As the year unfolds Luke’s particular interpretation of Jesus will become increasingly clear, but already we can see some of the outline from the introductory material Luke has used:

  • the infancy narratives
  • 12 year old in the Temple
  • baptism by John
  • temptation/testing by Satan

Applying the earlier questions to these early chapters of Luke results in the following:


  • king Herod of Judea
  • Zechariah (Temple priest) and his wife, Elizabeth
  • John the Baptist
  • Mary, a virgin from Nazareth in Galilee
  • Joseph, the man to whom she was engaged
  • Gabriel, an angel sent by God
  • Emperor Augustus
  • Quirinius, Roman governor of Syria
  • Shepherds and angels
  • Simeon
  • Anna
  • scribes and teachers in the Temple
  • Nazareth townsfolk


  • miraculous conceptions (John then Jesus)
  • prophetic oracles (Song of Zechariah, Song of Mary, Song of Simeon)
  • imperial policies and decrees
  • traditional piety
  • recognition by Jerusalem authorities
  • rejection by hometown mob


  • Temple (made famous by Roman victory in 70 CE)
  • synagogue (one in every major Roman city)
  • Bethlehem
  • Jerusalem
  • Nazareth


  • in the days of King Herod of Judea (37-4 BCE)
  • in reign of Emperor Augustis (27 BCE-14 CE)
  • when Quirinius Publius Sulpicius was governor of Syria (6-9 CE)


  • divine providence at work
  • bringing blessings of peace and salvation to those favored by God
  • Jesus revealed as the one on whom God’s Spirit rests

Assuming Luke-Acts is written some time during the 50 years after 70 CE, how would all these details of character, event, location and timing combine to communicate a particular interpretation of Jesus to Luke’s readers?

  • This Jesus is a Jew, but not a rebel.
  • His birth is marked by impressive signs and oracles.
  • He respects tradition and is no outlaw.
  • He is blessed with the divine Spirit but has no revolutionary intentions.
  • He brings the blessings of God to great and poor alike.
  • He offers hope without apocalyptic fantasy.
  • He generates joy rather than tribal hatreds.
  • He promotes social cohesion rather than chaos.
  • His own people mostly fail to see him for what he is.

Whether or not this is an accurate description of Jesus between, say, 25 and 30 CE, it is the way that Luke represented Jesus to the Gentiles who were increasingly turning to Christianity in the decades after the devastating war between the Jews and Rome (66-73). This Jesus found a place in the imagination of the Roman world, and would eventually claim Caesar as his disciple as well.

How do we represent Jesus to our world? Can the Jesus of hymnal and creed still capture the imagination of the 21C person? Do we need latter day Lukes to fashion fresh representations of Jesus for the third millennium? Will they be found inside the churches or only beyond their boundaries?



Liturgies and Prayers

For liturgies and sermons each week, shaped by a progressive theology, check Rex Hunt’s web site

Other recommended sites include:


Music Suggestions

See David MacGregor’s Together to Celebrate site for recommendations from a variety of contemporary genre.

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