How did Jesus perceive his mission? The gospel of Luke tells in sequence of Jesus being baptized, going into the wilderness to be tested, and then reading from the scrolls during worship at Nazareth. Scholars believe the event at Nazareth actually happened later in Jesus' ministry. So why does Luke locate it at the beginning? Because it is in this story that we see Jesus proclaiming his mission. Here is the passage:
16 When 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, 17 and 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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
20 And 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. 21 Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." (NRSV)
This passage is notable for two connections it makes with Old Testament eschatology (i.e., theology about the ultimate destiny of humankind). First, the idea of “the year of the Lord’s favor,” is a euphemism for the jubilee described in Leviticus 25. The jubilee was an event that was to happen every fifty years. Everyone returned to ancestral land and all terms of indentured servitude expired. It was part of the covenant provisions instituted by God. It symbolized a time of peace and restoration. This passage read by Jesus points back to a time before the diaspora, and before the monarchy, when all God’s people lived as households in stewardship of the resources entrusted to them. It was about the restoration of the Household of God begun in Abraham.
Second, the Luke passage directly referenced Isaiah 61:1-2 (which in turn referenced Leviticus 25.) It is from the heart of the restoration chapters in Isaiah 59-66, where the themes of gathering the people, overthrowing the enemies, restoration, and judgment are the focus. Jesus said “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” These were the works that would be done by the coming messiah. Jesus was claiming he was the messiah and that the promise was about to be fulfilled!
It is interesting to note what Jesus is not quoted as saying in his reading of the scrolls. Jesus’ reading stopped mid-sentence in Isaiah 61:2:
1 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;
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God; … NRSV
Jesus' mission was to restore the House of Israel but for many the House of Israel was now commingled with nation and monarchy, ruling with power, and exercising God’s judgment on others. From the start, Jesus seems to hint that he has a different vision of the House of Israel.