Scripture and the Life of the Church Synoptic Gospels

Ears and Eyes at Nazareth

Luke 4:16–21 has always been one of my favorite scenes in the Gospels. Jesus comes home to Nazareth and goes to synagogue as usual. He stands up and reads from Isaiah 61:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me
because he anointed me
to preach the good news to the poor;
He has sent me
to proclaim freedom to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to send out in freedom those who have been shattered,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

Luke 4:18–19 (my trans.)

Luke’s leisurely pacing in the following verse allows the drama of the moment to build—it’s masterful:

And after rolling up the scroll and giving it back to the attendant, he sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were staring at him…

Luke 4:20 (my trans.)

You could (I imagine) hear a pin drop. Then Jesus delivers his bombshell homily:

Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your ears.

Luke 4:21 (my trans.)

Dominical mic drop. I’m stirred by it every. single. time.

I realize that “in your ears” is a monstrously literal rendition of en tois ōsin hymōn, but I think it captures the moment better than the more common “in your hearing.” Jesus is claiming that this text is about him, that he is uniquely the Anointed of the Lord. Isaiah’s oracle is realized when the voice of Jesus strikes the Nazarenes’ ears because he is the first-person speaker of the text he is reading.

The question becomes, will they accept this word? Will they believe that their own ears could be the site of prophecy’s fulfillment? Will their eyes, which are “staring at him,” be the first beneficiaries of Jesus’ mission to “proclaim … recovery of sight to the blind”? In short, will they recognize him as the Lord’s Anointed?

This invitation to immediate perception of messianic salvation mirrors Simeon’s recognition of Jesus as God’s “salvation.” While Luke lays no emphasis on Simeon’s ears, per se, he does tell us that “it had been declared to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Anointed” (2:26; my trans.), and Simeon views his meeting with Jesus as a fulfillment of that “word” (kata to rhēma sou, 2:29). Simeon’s hearing of the word permits his eyes (ophthalmoi, 2:30) to recognize the Christ, and he “receives” him (edexato, from dechomai, 2:28).

The Nazarenes are impressed with Jesus’ words, but their knowledge of his family prevents what he says from penetrating (4:22). Their eyes (ophthalmoi, 4:20) are unable to see their fellow Nazarene as the Lord’s Anointed, and they therefore, unlike Simeon, regard him as not “receivable” (dektos, from dechomai, 4:24).

It’s easy to sneer at the Nazarenes from a distance. But only from a distance. Up close, it’s not so easy to be Simeon. In Luke 9:48, Jesus reacts to his disciples’ squabbling over pecking order by confronting them with The Simeon Challenge:

Whoever receives [from dechomai]
this little child [paidion]
in my name receives me,
and whoever receives me,
receives the one who sent [from apostellō] me.
(same verb as in Luke 2:28)
(“the little child [paidion] Jesus,” Luke 2:27)

(same verb as 2x in Luke 4:18)

We don’t have to be in the Jerusalem Temple when Mary and Joseph arrive to be like Simeon. We just need his ears to hear God’s word and his eyes to recognize its fulfillment where we might least expect it—that is, right smack-dab in front of us. And that’s a lot harder.

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