October 25, 2014

Difficult Scripture – Why Did Jesus Stop Reading When He Did?

Over the past several Fridays we have been looking at extracts from Michael Spencer’s upcoming book, Reconsider Jesus – A Fresh Look at Jesus from the Gospel of Mark. In our extract a few weeks back Michael Spencer wrote:

The good news is about God and what God is doing. It is not about me. It is not about some idea of success or happiness as the world might define it. You have probably noticed that in our culture God is judged by how much he fills out our shopping lists of needs and wants. This is not good news. This good news is an announcement that things are going to be different.

Check out what Jesus has to say in his first sermon, a further proclamation of the good news:

Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”…. 21 And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” – ESV

When you read the Gospels, Jesus is including the excluded, healing the hopeless, remaking Israel, reaching out to the pagan, overturning the religious professionals, redefining all the predictable terms, shocking those who know all the answers and, in general, making it unmistakably clear that the Kingdom isn’t just about forgiveness and “heaven,” but about the life we are living, and will live, both in the Kingdom here and now, as well as in the future. As Jesus walked through this world the Kingdom of God was like a big ship cutting through the waves. Every place he goes, the work and the fruit of the Kingdom flow out from him. Blind people see, hungry people are fed, deaf people hear, those with leprosy are cured, outcasts are included, people who are left out are brought in and beloved. The guilty are forgiven, the dead are raised. If you don’t know who Jesus is, you miss it.

A couple of weeks ago one of my Pastors pointed out something to me from this passage which I found very interesting and I had never heard before. Jesus is quoting from Isaiah 61, and he stops mid sentence. Look at what Isaiah says in chapter 61:

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;

The phrase “and the day of vengeance of our God” is excluded from Jesus’ reading of the scripture.

My thoughts went immediately to verses like John 3:17: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”

Do you think there is any significance to the fact that Jesus stopped mid-sentence? Were they waiting with baited breath for Jesus to read the next phrase and then astonished when he didn’t? Is the coming of Christ all about God’s favor, and not at all about God’s vengeance? If so, does that impact how we preach and how we teach? Are Hellfire and Brimstone sermons out of line? Is condemnation and vengeance Good News?

Or is it possible that when he read that portion from Isaiah, his listeners has the rest of the Isaiah passage in mind? Scott Lencke commented to me, that the situation might be similar to Christ on the cross quoting from Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Perhaps when Christ exclaimed this, his listeners would have had the whole Psalm in mind and so would have had a fuller understanding of what Christ was saying. If this is the case, does Christ’s message in Luke 4 also include the idea of vengeance? What other Biblical texts would support this?

I would be interested in reading your views on this? Do you tend to lean towards the first or second view? If so, why? Are their other options that we might want to consider?

Comments

  1. One thing to consider is Luke does eventually mention the ‘day of vengeance’ in his account of the Olivet Discourse. I haven’t checked to see if it’s in Matthew and Mark, but reading that for the first time immediately took me back to the Isaiah quotation in Luke 4.

    Maybe he is saying that Vengeance is certainly in the picture, but will be delayed until the End.

    • Highwayman says:

      That is the way I always heard it explained; that the day of vengeance is after the Lord’s second coming.

    • Great first observation Derek. It seems from the comments below that the day of vengeance can either be interpreted as Christ’s death on the cross, or the final judgement that comes when Christ returns. There are probably also those who would relate it to the Roman sacking of Jerusalem.

  2. Matthew 26: 53 -54 “53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

    John 18: 36 “36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”

  3. That is very interesting. Perhaps it was because the ‘day of vengeance of our God’ was not yet being fulfilled in their hearing. That particular day would be fulfilled a few years down the road.

    • This has always been my interpretation. I assumed that He did not quote the part about the “day of vengeance of our God” because that part of the Scripture was not fulfilled that day in their hearing.

  4. It could be that they would have finished it out of memory. The question is where did the Torah\ Haftarah finish?

    From what I understand the readings where different then now. They took many of the messianic readings out. (like Isaiah 53)

  5. Steve Newell says:

    While I am no expert on Hebrew or Aramaic, is there the punchuation in the text that we have in English? Also, the division of OT books into chapters did not happen until after 1000 AD.

  6. Andie:

    Per Luke 1: A Commentary on the Gospel of Luke 1:1–9:50 by by François Bovon (Hermeneia), the haphtara ran through Isaiah 61:9, and a possible play on the word “favorable/welcome” may be why Jesus stops where he does. I.e., the reason(s) for Jesus stopping where he does may be complex.

    Luke is familiar with the Greek tripartite chronology of birth, the first years at home (ên tethrammenos, “he had been brought up”), and the period of education at school (cf. Acts 22:3*).14 Jesus is presented as a pious Jew with a good upbringing; he regularly attends synagogue. Kata to eiôthos with the dative (“as was [his] custom”) is Lukan (Acts 17:2*), as is “on the Sabbath day” (five times in the Gospel, three times in Acts). Standing up to read could describe the custom of the time. Luke does not tell us whether Jesus was requested in advance to take upon himself the reading and sermon, as would be usual. He seems to accept this; otherwise he surely would have emphasized Jesus’ unusual initiative as just that.

    Luke is at least describing in detailed fashion a synagogue service on the Sabbath,15 in which, for understandable reasons, important elements such as the first part (with the Shema, prayer, and blessing) and the beginning of the second (such as the reading from the Torah) are lacking. Because he is narrating a special event within the usual run of things, he selects a moment in the middle of the second, more didactic, half of the service. He assumes that another person did the reading from the Torah. In Acts 13 Paul will begin even later, after the reading for the sermon. It is not certain that the portions of the Torah were already organized as a fixed cycle in the first century. It is probable that selection of the reading from the Prophets was still free. It is important that, despite the various types of homilies at the time, the preacher often interpreted the seder (selection from the Torah) with allusions to the haphtara (selection from the Prophets) and with the help of the so-called petichtot (chiefly citations from the Writings).16

    In its Lukan description, the completeness of the composition of the first scene is striking: Jesus stands up, he is given the scroll, he opens it and finds the passage for which he is looking, he closes the scroll, gives it back, and sits down. Skillfully Luke, instead of saying that Jesus read aloud, implies it through the expression of his purpose and in the citation that follows (vv. 18–19*). Hupêretês (“attendant”) describes the ?azan, the official from whom Jesus receives the scroll. Luke perhaps implies that Jesus selected the passage himself (“found”), but it is also possible that it was already prescribed for this day, or that it was apportioned to Jesus by lot.

    Luke understands the citation as haphtara, even though the reading from the Prophets was normally longer: the usual pericope ran until v. 9*. But Luke generally conserves space in citations, and “the day of vengeance” (Isa 61:2*) would have been inappropriate. Moreover, he is citing the LXX, which suggests to him a play on words (“welcome,” dektos, vv. 19*, 24*). Despite all this, the influence of synagogue practice on both tradition and redaction should not be underestimated.17

    The manuscripts of Isaiah from Qumran attest that Isaiah 61 was read and commented on in schools and synagogues.18 On the one hand, Isaiah 61 is associated with the beginning of the Year of Jubilee on Yom Kippur (cf. 11QMelch and its expectation of a priestly Messiah). On the other hand, Isaiah 61 probably served as the haphtara for the seder that begins at Gen 35:9* (God’s blessing of Jacob, understood in oral tradition as a consolation). The Lukan text emphasizes neither the priestly perspective nor the explicit thought of consolation.

    The citation agrees verbatim with the LXX; Luke only skips over the words, “to heal those who are downcast in their hearts,” and adds the phrase, “to let the oppressed go free,” from Isa 58:6*. Did Luke intend to avoid connecting Jesus’ miraculous healings to the Spirit,19 or to concentrate only on the messianic interpretation, thus omitting, in opposition to Jewish trends of interpretation, the words of consolation?20 Neither is convincing, but I have no better suggestion.21 The addition of Isa 58:6* may have something to do with the technique of haphtara, and linking passages that share the same words (cf. Isa 58:4*: sêmeron, “this day”; Isa 58:5*: dektên, “welcome”).22 Texts such as Isa 57:15–58:14* and Isa 61:1–11* became associated with each other on the occasion of the celebration of Yom Kippur, the first because of fasting and contrition, the second because of the beginning of the Year of Jubilee.23

  7. I think he may just have lost his place…

  8. Maybe Jesus kept reading, but Luke stopped there in his account of it.

    • That’s possible. In the accounts of Jesus cleansing the temple, Mark’s account is the only one that has Jesus completing the passage from Isaiah 56, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” Luke, with Matthew and John, omit “for all nations”, which could explain the situation better, the Gentiles having been crowded out of the temple, thereby provoking Jesus’ anger.

  9. Mike, whatever actually was said at the time, I would find this scripture much more difficult if the line about vengeance had been included. At the heart of Jesus’ proclamation was the radical idea that instead of seeking vengeance upon our enemies, we are to bless them and pray for them and to care for their needs as if they were our own. Two thousand years later we are only beginning to get a handle on this outrageous concept. Turn on your TV and check out the latest from the Middle East or watch the sentencing of an American murderer when those concerned are given freedom to address the murderer. Think back a couple of years to the tanker load of vitriol thrown at Rob Bell for daring to suggest that love wins.

    I believe this isn’t a matter of right and wrong, but of different levels of spiritual consciousness. Jesus came to raise ours, and it has been a hard row to hoe from that first opening salvo until today. Bit by bit I believe we are starting to catch on.

    • Cedric Klein says:

      Except that, as noted before, Jesus does refer to “the days of vengeance” which will come upon Christ-rejecting Jerusalem within that generation (Luke 21: 20-220.

      20 And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.

      21 Then let them which are in Judaea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter thereinto.

      22 For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.

  10. Aidan Clevinger says:

    I think it might be something of a contrast between Jesus and John the Baptist. The Baptist was preparing the way for Christ by preaching repentance; in chapter 3, he’s just told the people that the Messiah would baptize the impenitent “with fire” – according to the next verse, the fires of judgment. But since the Baptist had prepared the way with the Law, Luke has Christ come with the Gospel. Perhaps it’s not a question of why Jesus Himself stopped where He did, but why Luke arranged the stories in their particular order.

    Probably a very typically Lutheran response, but I figured I’d toss it out there.

  11. That’s a fascinating question, isn’t it? The reason I’ve always heard (from a dispensational point of view) is that the judgment and vengeance is for the Second Coming, which makes sense (universally across traditions, I think: “to judge the quick and the dead”?). And this is a composite reading (Is. 58:6, as noted) which makes things complicated, doesn’t it?

    I think what follows is important, too. This is Jesus’ mission statement in Luke. Jesus came proclaiming release to the prisoners, sight to the blind, liberty to the oppressed and all his hearers in Nazareth would certainly have considered themselves such, legitimately, under the Roman yoke. But then comes Jesus’ astounding claim of fulfilled prophecy (v 20) and (surprisingly) strong response to the worshipers’ incredulity (vv. 23-27): He’s in the line of Elijah and Elisha and just as their ministry was extended to the Gentiles because of Jewish hardness of heart, so will this newer, much greater work of God in Jesus, pass over the Jews to Gentiles if they persist in unbelief. That crosses the line and Jesus’ hearers try to bring his ministry to a long drop and a sudden stop (vv. 28-30). In a sense, vengeance and judgment ARE demonstrated by the people’s response. Isaiah’s passage doesn’t need to be finished because it is modeled.

    Jesus probably stopped where Luke records him stopping, and this passage becomes a mini-paradigm of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospel. He releases prisoners (and the oppressed), gives sight to the blind, proclaims the Lord’s favor (a nice summary of his ministry) and then is rejected and takes on Himself “the vengeance of our God”. But that’s only seen in retrospect.

  12. Christiane says:

    ‘fire’ often seems to be an element of purification in sacred Scripture . . . like the seraphim bringing a hot coal from the altar to cleanse the lips of Isaiah . . . and the coming of the Holy Spirit ‘like tongues of fire’ at Pentecost to instill holy fire into the Apostles and take their fear away and give them courage to go forth into the world . . .

    I can believe in the ‘fire’ of the Holy Spirit as a positive force, and express it in this prayer:
    “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth. ”

    it occurs that the Gospel is all about ‘renewing the face of the earth’ and perhaps, since the time of Pentecost, we can look at fire in the way of calling down the power of the Holy Spirit for the purposes of renewal, not of destruction.

    I think Michael Spencer got it right, this: “When you read the Gospels, Jesus is including the excluded, healing the hopeless, remaking Israel, reaching out to the pagan, overturning the religious professionals, redefining all the predictable terms, shocking those who know all the answers and, in general, making it unmistakably clear that the Kingdom isn’t just about forgiveness and “heaven,” but about the life we are living, and will live, both in the Kingdom here and now, as well as in the future. As Jesus walked through this world the Kingdom of God was like a big ship cutting through the waves. Every place he goes, the work and the fruit of the Kingdom flow out from him. Blind people see, hungry people are fed, deaf people hear, those with leprosy are cured, outcasts are included, people who are left out are brought in and beloved. The guilty are forgiven, the dead are raised. If you don’t know who Jesus is, you miss it. ”

    Michael was special that way: he knew ‘who Jesus is’, and he didn’t ‘miss it’.

    Perhaps the ‘hell-fire’ preachers need to come to terms with the teaching that the Holy Spirit points us always towards the light of Christ and does not direct us back towards the darkness
    . . . and most of all the hell-fire folk need to remember that at Pentecost forward, a ‘spirit of fear’ has no place among those who follow Christ into the light

  13. Quote: “It is not about some idea of success or happiness as the world might define it.”

    I’m not in agreement with these teachings that God does not give a rat at all about our earthly happiness at all, and/or that pain in life is always meant as some kind of God-lesson, or for our own spiritual good (I don’t think that applied to Job of the Old Testament – that looks to me more like God proving something about Himself to Satan).

    No, I don’t agree with Prosperity Gospel teachers who go the other extreme and that is all they teach (that God wants us to be wealthy and healthy all the time).

    But there are too many examples in the Scripture of God and Jesus meeting everyday earthly needs, such as giving food to a starving person, Jesus saying, ‘ever hair on your head has been numbered, God knows even when a sparrow falls,’ God allowing a barren woman who prays to Him to get pregnant and so on and so forth to me to think God only cares about our spiritual growth, “making us more like Jesus,” or ‘making us more holy.’

  14. I think it’s important to read Jesus’s “sermon” a few verses later, I think. It’s no coincidence that he starts talking about Naaman.

  15. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    “Why did Jesus stop reading when he did?”

    TO MESS WITH ALL OUR MINDS TWENTY CENTURIES LATER, THAT’S WHY.