Jesus makes a pun in Luke 4. I’m not the first one to notice this, but it stood out to me as I read my way through Luke 4:14-21 this past week. I’m preaching on the passage at my church tomorrow.
Jesus enters the synagogue at his hometown of Nazareth in Galilee and opens the Isaiah scroll to Isaiah 61. In the NIV, the Luke passage reads as follows:
The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
But a few verses later (v. 24) Jesus tells the people, “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.” (They tried then to throw him off a cliff.)
The play on words Jesus uses is not readily evident in most translations, but Jesus uses the same word for favor (“year of the Lord’s favor“) as he does for accepted (“no prophet is accepted“). It’s a rare enough Greek word Luke uses, that I can only conclude it’s deliberate–this is the only passage in all the Gospels to use this word. (For Hellenophiles who read this blog, the word is δεκτός.)
The translations aren’t necessarily wrong to obscure the fact that it’s the same word in each verse. After all, context determines meaning, so even this same word carries different nuances the two times it’s used.
But the irony is that in this year of the Lord’s favor, which Jesus notes later in the passage begins “today,” even his hometown will not accept him. There is no acceptance (δεκτός) of this favor (δεκτός).
And before we rush to point backwards at the hard-heartedness of 1st century Nazareth, perhaps we easily enough realize those ways in which we fail to accept the favor that God would lavish on us. May Jesus give us sight where we do not see all that he comes to offer us.