The Nazareth Manifesto, and why I don’t label myself

There are a few verses from Luke 4 which I (and lots of other people) really love! They are part of a passage in Luke’s gospel commonly known as the Nazareth Manifesto, where Jesus heads to the synagogue, opens up the scroll of Isaiah and quotes these words. Then he preaches, starting with the words: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)

Lots of Reasons

Like I said, I love these words, and this passage as a whole. And I’m not alone – lots of people adore this passage, and rightly so. What I have found odd, though, is the huge diversity of opinion about why this passage is so awesome! (I’m about to use some ‘labels’, which I very rarely do, but you’ll hopefully see why I’m making an exception…)

I’ve heard ‘charismatic evangelicals’ (who place a high emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit) effuse about this passage because of the huge statement that the ‘Spirit of the Lord’ was upon Jesus in order for Him to carry out His work. Wow! The ministry even of Jesus, second person of the Trinity, was empowered and enabled by the Holy Spirit. How much more so ours?!

I’ve heard ‘conservative evangelicals’ (who place a high emphasis on the revelation of God through the Bible) speak excitedly about Jesus’ use of Isaiah and His statement that He fulfils it. Fantastic! The ministry of Jesus was heavily rooted in Scripture, and He recognised Himself as its fulfilment. This has all sorts of implications for how we understand both Jesus and the Bible in light of the other.

I’ve also heard the more ‘socially-minded’ (who place a high emphasis on social action and social justice) get very animated about this passage because of the content of the prophecy Jesus attributed to Himself. It is all about liberation and restoration for those who are marginalised and oppressed in one way or another. Jesus is making THAT the manifesto of His ministry. Wonderful!

The problem with labels

Here’s the thing, though: they’re all true! I believe that this passage speaks to each of those things, and we should take each of them seriously. Word, Spirit, action – we need them all.

This is the danger of labels. We can end up defining ourselves so much by one (vital) part of Christian theology or spirituality, that we miss out on the importance of other aspects. How sad to miss any part of God’s revelation to us or any part of His plans for us because we were too focused on just one thing?

The only label that I whole-heartedly and unashamedly apply to myself is ‘Christian’. I use other labels about myself rarely and with reservation. I know how easily I could start to place my identity in being ‘charismatic’, ‘conservative’, ‘Baptist’, ‘socially-minded’, ‘Protestant’… In some ways I am all of those, but they are not my primary identity.

It may sound like I’m saying I have this cracked – far from it! I confess that, while I believe in each of those three points taken from the Nazareth Manifesto (action, Spirit, word), I’d be lying if I said they all actually excite me the same amount. Certain parts of it appeal to me more acutely than the others. But that is because of my personality and my own particular passions. And I refuse to allow myself to limit or shape an understanding of God’s word specifically, or His purposes generally, based on my own personality. I need to embrace the whole of what God has for us and has revealed to us, not just the bits that excite me the most.

And I feel that being too quick to label myself in a certain way would lead me, eventually, to start doing just that.

Reaching for it all

The ideal, I feel, is to try our very hardest to reach for it all. A deep and deepening understanding of God’s word, allowing Him to reveal Himself and His purposes through it. A deep and deepening relationship with the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to equip and enable us into all that He has planned for us. A deep and deepening partnership with Jesus in serving the vulnerable and downtrodden, allowing Him to use us in that transformational work. All of them, all at once.

Reaching for all of it is difficult. It would be far easier to ‘specialise’ as a Christians. But I feel, very strongly, that if I did so it would be a disservice to God.

So if you know me, and you feel I’m starting to do that, please tell me and help to keep me honest.

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  • Richard Criddle

    Don’t conservative evangelicals get more excited that “proclaim” is the most repeated word? 😉

    Seriously though, my question is whether Isaiah and Luke are primarily talking in physical or spiritual categories when they talk about poverty, blindness, etc. Isaiah clearly uses both categories at various points and Luke uses blindness both ways. But my question is the focus of that language in Luke 4.

    You’ve suggested that Jesus’ manifesto is “all about liberation and restoration for those who are marginalised and oppressed in one way or another”. I’m happy to teach that in general (although I’d hesitate with the “all”), but want to know whether Luke wants me to from here. Various things are pushing me in different directions, but I’ve not found anything to read yet that doesn’t assume one answer or the other. Why did you end up there?

    It’s the same issue I’ll face in ch6 when I have to work out whether “blessed are the poor” means the same as Matthew’s “poor in Spirit” or not – but that’s for another month.

    • Dave Criddle

      Yo bro! Good chat, and sorry for the delay.

      My headline: I believe Isaiah, Luke and Jesus are speaking of liberation in both spiritual and physical terms. Now the longer answer…

      When I suggested what you said I suggested (your 3rd para), I was wearing my “I’m a Christian who defines myself by the label of being socially active” hat. This post was primarily about labels, and the three paragraphs where I wore different hats all did the same thing: take something which I believe to be a part of this passage’s meaning, and elevate it to the status of being the WHOLE meaning of the text. I have beef with this. So I don’t believe that the manifesto is “all” about physical liberation. I’m saying that’s what some would say because they are particularly interested in physical liberation.

      But I do believe physical liberation was in mind with Luke (and Jesus) when quoting Isa 61. Why? A few reasons. Primarily it is because, as you’ve said, Isaiah uses this sort of language to describe both physical and spiritual categories. Jesus knew that. Luke knew that. And I can’t see how they would say/write in the way they did without expecting people to hear both physical and spiritual.

      The second is that I do believe Luke deliberately attempts to shine a light on the physical restoration Jesus brings, and he does so consistently through his gospel. I don’t go as far as to say Luke is the ‘Gospel for the poor’, but he is definitely interested in these issues and presents them strongly. In light of this, I can’t imagine this passage not being a part of this presentation.

      (This is perhaps enhanced by the way I see him taking elements of Matthew (e.g. ‘blessed are the poor in Spirit’) and slightly ‘de-spiritualising’ them. He seems to be saying ‘Of course Jesus brings spiritual transformation, but that’s not all he does’. Of course this part is informed by my belief that Luke knew Matthew’s Gospel before writing his (Farrer’s Hypothesis), and is an argument one couldn’t make if one supposes the Q tradition (I’m not down with Q) and that’s why I’ve put this paragraph in brackets.)

      Finally, I might be being slightly reactionary in having an expansive rather than limiting view of the meaning/s of this passage. I sometimes see ‘we won’t make this say what it doesn’t say’ become ‘this can only say one thing so that’s all I’ll say’. I think passages can work on a number of levels, and I probably naturally prefer to see more rather than fewer. I’m aware that sometimes that needs reigning in, but here I think I’m comfortable with it.

      Was any of that useful?

      • Richard Criddle

        Yes, useful – thank you. I’ll put it in the pot and see what comes out on Monday morning when I sit down to write notes for our leaders…

        I’ve been intrigued this morning by Michael Yu arguing that Jesus is presenting himself as the end of the fall. Something like: (1) Jesus has just stood off against Satan where Adam fell, (2) Jesus is now proclaiming that his victory will mean a campaign against Satan’s bondage in the world and (3) the return from exile in Isaiah 61 is a great picture of that liberation and home-coming. Fun.

        I’ve yet to find a passage with only one thing going on in it. But given that I’m going to leave 95% of all this on the cutting room floor before trying to teach children, I’m grateful for the chance to wrestle through: if Luke was going to visit our kids on Sunday morning what would he most want to tell them for ten minutes from this chapter?

        • Dave Criddle

          Glad it was useful, and glad you’re enjoying getting into it. Interested to know where you come out.

          Given the multi-faceted-ness of passages, I’m never entirely sure about the ‘find the take home message for the children’ mentality. Would it give them a better view of God (and the Bible) to take one passage from different angles on consecutive weeks? I know you’ve done that kind of thing before. I think it’s a good thing.

          • Richard Criddle

            I’ve come close to doing it most weeks for this series! The downside for this age group who still think very concretely is that the story is where most of the interest comes from, so it would feel like we’re doing the same thing over and over. Obviously younger children like that, but with 5-8s I think it’s giving them an excuse to think the Bible’s boring. Might be that I’m just not interesting enough to pull it off. My hope is that the nuances of each week mean we’ll get some coverage of the big themes.

            But, of course, there will be plenty for them still to see when they come back around Luke’s gospel next time.

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