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.”
This is one of my favorite scriptures (taken from the NRSV as are the other quoted scriptures), and I believe it’s also a very often an underestimated scripture. The words quoted are directly from the LXX version of Isaiah 61:1, 2. The word used for “anointed me” in both Luke 4:18 and the LXX Isaiah 61:1 is ἔχρισέν με” Christened me, this in Luke is the first time Jesus identifies himself as one anointed by God, and in a sense gives his mission statement. It’s also of note that Cyrus in Isaiah 45:1 is described as “τῷ χριστῷ μου Κύρῳ” The Christ of God, Cyrus, or my anointed one. It could be argued that Cyrus was in a way a proto-Christ, a proto-Messiah. What did Cyrus do that earned him the title of Christ of God, well he liberated Judah from the Babylonians who had conquered them and taken them into captivity, and restored true worship.
When Jesus said he was annointed and sent to “proclaim release to the captives” and “to let the oppressed go free,” surely the Galileans in that Synagogue were thinking Release to the captive Jews from the Romans, and let the oppressed Jews go free from Roman Domination, just as Cyrus had been a Christ sent from God to deliver the Israelites from Babylon, perhaps Jesus was the Christ sent to deliver the Jews from Rome.
The fact that this was declared in a Synagogue in Nazareth, in Galilee is also significant, seeing as just around 2 decades before, according to Josephus as well as Luke in the book of Acts, a revolutionary named Judas the Galilean led a revolt against a property census enacted by Rome, and was killed for it. A couple years after Jesus’ death Judas the Galilean’s sons, Simon and Jacob started another rebellion, which was put down. So Galilee it seems was a hot bed of revolutionary activity, a fact that certainly would have influenced how Jesus’ quoting of Isaiah 61:1, 2 was understood.
Another aspect of Luke 4:18, 19 that stands out to me is that he finishes with “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” The year of the Lords favor is in reference to the Jubilee year talked about in Leviticus 25 (which also talks about the Sabbatical year, which does have some importance). The Jubilee year was every 50th year, after 7 cycles of the sabbatical year. On the Jubilee there would be a ceasing of agricultural work (which also happened on the sabbatical year, where the land also became temporarily common property), a cancelation of debts, a redistribution of the land back to the family plots and a releasing of indentured servants and slaves. It’s interesting what is said in verse 23
The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.
So private property rights in Israel were tentative, secondary, in a sense all the land was leased from God, and to be distributed to all the Sons of Israel. In verse 25-28 it implies that part of the reason for this was the alleviate poverty. The fact that this group of laws has to do with social justice, and not only, for example, keeping property within the tribal limits, is confirmed in verses 35 to 38, where it commands the Israelites to support and lend to those who become poor, and to do so without charging interest or making a profit from them. Also the constant reminder in Leviticus 25 that God brought the Israelites out of Egypt would impress the memory that at one point the Israelites were economically exploited and oppressed, and that was not to happen among them.
The parallel description of the Sabbatical year in Deuteronomy 15, also gives us this reason, which is applicable to this group of laws.
4 There will, however, be no one in need among you, because the Lord is sure to bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession to occupy.
So when the Galilean Jews in the Synagogue heard that the Year of the Lords favor was being declared, what would come to mind? Land redistribution, cancelation of debts, freedom from servitude. Especially so given the economic situation in first century Palestine. In the Book “A People’s History of Christianity – Christian Origins” by Richard Horsley or the very popular book “Zealot, the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth” as well as John Dominic Crossan’s book “The Historical Jesus, the life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant” as well as countless other books on the historical Jesus or Christian Origins the economic situation of 1rst century Palestine is very well documented, in short, there were a very small elite of Roman officials, a tiny elite of Jewish Aristocrats (including the Temple Authority and members of the Sanhedrin), a very small number of middle class people, perhaps professionals, perhaps moderate land owners, and a majority of people at or below subsistence levels, laborers (such as Jesus), peasants, very often peasants who were highly in debt and under a high tax burden from Rome, indentured servants, slaves, and those who had even less. So for many people a proclamation of liberation from Rome, and a declaration of a Jubilee, redistribution and cancelation of debts and release from indentured servitude would have definitely made people listen. Which is perhaps why, according to Luke, all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him, and people talked about him.
The economic implication of this proclamation was not lost on the first Christians; I believe it shows up again in Luke’s history of the early Christian community, specifically in Acts 2 and 4. Acts 4:32-35
32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
In a sense the Christian community did enact a kind of Jubilee. Notice what it says in verse 34, “there was not a needy person among them” in the Greek it’s οὐδὲ γὰρ ἐνδεής τις ἦν ἐν αὐτοῖ, the word for needy person is ” ἐνδεής, no notice the reading in Deuteronomy 15:4 ” There will, however, be no one in need among you” and from the LXX ὅτι οὐκ ἔσται ἐν σοὶ ἐνδεής. Luke talks about the poor all the time, but this is the only time he uses ἐνδεής, clearly he wants the reader to think of Deuteronomy 15:4, in a sense Jesus’ declaration of “the year of the Lords favor” had been fulfilled.