Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
1All the people gathered together into the square before the Water Gate. They told the scribe Ezra to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the Lord had given to Israel. 2Accordingly, the priest Ezra brought the law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could hear with understanding. This was on the first day of the seventh month. 3He read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law. ... 8So they read from the book, from the law of God, with interpretation. They gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.
9And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, "This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep." For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. 10Then he said to them, "Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength."
Torah is (the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Hebrew bible) as well as the entire remembered, spoken written history, narratives, poetry, lore, songs, liturgies, sagas, that God used to call and claim a people, to form and shape a common life, that God used to redeem and save God's people to the fullest extent possible before Jesus Christ. It includes the ten commandments of the Sinai Covenant–Exodus 20 2-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21.
Today's post-exilic Hebrew text from the book of Nehemiah reads Torah for every instance of the English translation "law."
Torah is a huge deal!
reminder: a few weeks ago we discussed that for the apostle Paul, "law" never means the commandments or the entire remembered, spoken, written Torah. For Paul, law means (for example) circumcision, keeping kosher, sacrificial law, ceremonial law, none of which is redemptive or salvific. On the other hand, keeping the commandments does help save us. Jesus: "to be saved, keep the commandments." Keep covenant with all creation!
Psalm 19 Listen carefully to Psalm 19 that celebrates God's law, decrees, ordinances, precepts, commandments.
14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18"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, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor." 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
Last week: John's version of Jesus' public ministry debut, his IPO, was a party!
Today we have Luke's version of Jesus public ministerial debut. Just as for John, it's also in his Galileean hometown, a place that was very working class, full of reprobates, thieves, robbers, liars, and gentiles! This text is full of Luke's themes of HS, the marginalized, the underprivileged. This is Jesus' hometown, his home synagogue. The neighbors all know him as Joseph's son. We need to remember he was 30 years old and had been attending synagogue there for a very long time.
Jesus combines Isaiah 61:1-2a: "The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor." And Isaiah 58:6: "[Is not this the fast that I choose:] to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?" Jesus leaves out the words about vengeance.
Although Jesus' way is comprehensive (body, mind, spirit, social, psychological) Luke's perspective is very physical, economic, and material. Jesus and Luke address the fallout and offer words and actions to redeem the new class of impoverished, debtors, prisoners (mostly folks who couldn't pay up) Roman occupation had created.
In contract, Matthew often is more spiritual. Barbara: interesting that Matthew the tax collector is less concerned about finances than Luke!
Striking in this text that Jesus tells his listeners right now, today, this Isaiah text has been fulfilled. Jesus even mentions the year of the Lord's favor, the Jubilee 50th year – 7 years times 7 – from Leviticus 25: cancellation of debts, release of captives, prisoners. (Jubilee never actually happened). We know the rest of the story, about Jesus' ministry in word and action. But we know all of this blind seeing, deaf hearing, etc. have not been totally fulfilled.
How about us? How does God call and claim us in this text?
In both Luke and Matthew, John the Baptist send his followers to ask Jesus if Jesus was the promised one, "or do we need to look for another?" Today's gospel reading from Luke includes Jesus: "Go and tell John what you see and hear! The blind see; the deaf hear; the lame walk; poor have good news preached to them; the dead are raised!" (note passive voice here)
How about us? How does this gospel text call and claim us?