And Jesus unrolled the scroll …

A look at Luke 1:1-4; 4:16-21)

Often, the Gospel of Luke emphasises the Jewish roots of Jesus. This is an aspect that has often been minimised or obscured during the centuries of church history. Today only He re-enters the light. On March 6th, 1982, Pope St. John Paul told delegates of episcopal conferences and other experts, meeting in Rome to study relations between the Church and Judaism: „Jesus was and always remained a Jew“, his ministry was deliberately limited to „the lost sheep of the house of Israel!(Matthew 15:24).

What we have just heard, it is the evocation of a liturgy in the synagogue — a scene as taken from life.

What happen’s today on the Sabbath day in all the synagogues of the world, is exactly the same as in the days of Jesus?

gospel of luke 3ad greek
Gospel of Luke 3AD Greek papyrus

The essential moment is the reading of the Tôrah (תּוֹרָה instruction). The scroll manuscript (ספרי תורה Sifrei Tôrah) is taken out of the holy ark (אָרוֹן קׄדֶש Aron kodesh) in which they are ordinarily housed; we symbolically „divest“ the Tôrah of the rich fabric that always covers it; and unroll the parchment until we arrive at the reading of the day. Several men may take turns to assist the reader throughout this pericope. The entire Pentateuch is indeed divided into 52 sections —and even 53, to cover all Sabbaths of the year. And when we finish, we start again: the last verses of Deuteronomy follow the beginning of Genesis.

Thus the integral text of the Pentateuch is heard by the Jewish (יְהוּדִים Yehudim) faithful each year.

Then comes the „second reading,“ taken from the Prophets. It is also not chosen at random, but corresponds to the text of the Torah that has just been proclaimed. Some exegetes thus sought to determine which Shabbat it was, in our passage from the Gospel of Luke. It’s actually difficult to know because it we know that the liturgical cycles have undergone several changes over the centuries.


Be that as it may, Jesus is invited to read the section of the Prophets, taken that day from Isaiah. I insist on it: he does not choose this passage (as one might do to have a quick read), but he stops at the intended section. And, if I may say so, it was perfect timing: which in our minds summons up Messianic times through the voice of a prophet sent by God, and vested for this mission by the power of the Holy Spirit. Yet it is exactly this power of the Spirit that Jesus had just received on the banks of the River Jordan!

At the same time, the passage of Isaiah reverberates like a schedule for Him. Yes, it is He who proclaims a year of grace from the Lord, who announces liberation for the captives, returns sight to the blind, and who returns freedom to the oppressed!

The entire synagogue had their eyes on Him.“  As a matter of fact, it was customary at the time that the one who recited the second reading would articulate a few words for reflection. What will this native son say?

A single sentence, but charged with meaning: „Today this scripture is fulfilled in your ears.“

This will allow us to meditate upon a very important but somewhat difficult theme of our Christian confession of faith: that of the fulfilment of the Scriptures..

We gladly proclaim: Jesus came to fulfil all that was announced in the Bible, especially in the prophets. It is the Risen Himself who teaches it to the two disciples at Emmaus: „And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded to them in all the scriptures, the things that were concerning him.“ (Luke 24:27). And the epistle to the Hebrews adds: „God, who, at sundry times and in divers manners, spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, last of all; In these days hath spoken to us by his Son …,“ (Hebrews 1:1-2).

Yet if this really was the case … the story should simply have ended! We would have had nothing left  to wait or hope for … 

In reality, it would not be erronous to say that „everything has been accomplished“, but at the same time we must be able to recognise … that there is still a lack of fulfilment. It is true that Jesus restored sight to the blind and announced the release to the captives – whatever their captivity may be. Yet there are still many blind people and many prisoners around us!

What we affirm is that Jesus inaugurated a new world … which has yet to mature and grow to full size, to replace the ancient world.

Let us again cast an eye over the very first verse of the Acts of the Apostles, interpreting it correctly: „The former treatise I made, O Theophilus, of all things which Jesus began to do and to teach …“ Yes, you heard correctly: Jesus was just beginning. To put it a little familiarly: he did not finish the job! Apart from that, the book of Acts will reveal the apostles to us, in particular Peter and Paul, they who do the same as Him especially when healing the sick.

And what is quite extraordinary is that the book of Acts is incomplete: it stops mid-sentence, without a conclusion! Its an unfinished book…!

Unquestionably, we are able to see within this inconsistency an auspicious meaning: it is up to the successive Christian generations to „continue“ this story, and to continue in particular „what Jesus had only just began to do and teach“.

At the same time, it is the entire history of the Church up to our days, the whole history of Christian holiness, which represents this „continuation“. From this viewpoint, we can better understand the final reflection of the Gospel of John: „But there are also many other things which Jesus did; which, if they were written every one, the world itself, I think, would not be able to contain the books that should be written.“ (John 21:25).

Yes, it’s up to us and our responsibility to „finish the job“ and to bring about this new world of justice and peace we call the Kingdom of God!

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