They chose the book; He chose the verse – Thursday after Epiphany – Luke 4:14-22a
In his early thirties Jesus had left Nazareth and the family workshop to listen to John the Baptist in the desert. Today’s Gospel tells us of Jesus’ dramatic homecoming to the little synagogue in Nazareth in Galilee. Galilee is significant because of its insignificance! Jesus did not grow up in Jerusalem, the centre of Jewish life and religious practice. Instead, he grew up in Galilee, the hinterlands, a place where many Gentiles live; a nowhere place as far as the religious elite are concerned. A major portion of his ministry is conducted in Galilee. Jesus, the familiar young local carpenter, is home again. Little did that village know that they were about to witness a turning-point in world history.
Right at the outset of His Galilean ministry, Jesus announces his mission for the poor and those on the fringes, especially the Gentiles. It is in Nazareth that Jesus declares publicly His pastoral mission. There are six incidences in Luke’s Gospel that has Jesus actively involved on the Sabbath; this is the first of the six and it takes place in the synagogue.
The centre of Jewish worship historically was the temple in Jerusalem. However, during the Babylonian Exile and the Diaspora (the geographical scattering of the Jews), Jews established local synagogues so that they might worship regularly. While the emphasis of temple worship was animal sacrifice, synagogue worship focused on prayer, scripture readings, and teaching. For most Jews, temple worship was something that they experienced, at best, a few times in a lifetime. Still others could only hope to make one Jerusalem pilgrimage in their lifetime. Hence, local synagogues met their need for regular worship. The synagogues placed less emphasis on ritual and more emphasis on teaching spiritual values.
The Sabbath service in the synagogue was not a triennial cycle of readings as we have them in Church today nor was it led by the ‘ministerial priesthood ‘. There were no professional clergy. The president of the synagogue invited someone to comment on the scriptures. Luke 4:23 tells us that the people of Nazareth were aware of the things that Jesus had done in Capernaum and in a way acknowledge Him as a Rabbi and so they honour him by allowing him to read the scriptures and preach to them.