1) Synagogue 2) Ordering of Chaos 3) Authority
The synagogue is important as we try to understand the first century context of Jesus' ministry. Synagogue worship was brought to Galilee as Jews returned from Babylon after the Maccabean revolt (167 B.C.). Synagogues were not in competition with the temple because Jews still went to the temple in Jerusalem each year for the three Jewish feast days of Passover, Shavuot (Pentecost), and Sukkoth. Synagogues were the centers of daily teaching and worship in the Jewish communities of the first century. The only Torah scrolls in most communities in Galilee would have been at the synagogue. Jesus' ministry in the synagogues would have brought Him into contact with the greatest Torah scholars of His time. The synagogue in Capernaum would have been comparable to the Harvard, Yale, and Princeton of our own cultural context. His impact at these centers of teaching and worship cannot be underestimated. As Ray Vander Laan teaches, Jesus would have been at the synagogue because that is where the Word of God was located.
Another important theme in this week's passage is the ordering of chaos. Jesus proclaims in His hometown synagogue of Nazareth in Luke 4:18-19 that He has come to bless those who are poor (poor in spirit), captive, blind, and oppressed. He is reading from the Torah scrolls the words of Isaiah 61:1-2. After reading these words from the scroll, Jesus gives the shortest sermon imaginable with six Hebrew words saying, today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing. Jesus' sermon tells us that He has come to order the chaos that plagues human life through our sinful nature. We see this theme clearly when He goes to the synagogue in Capernaum and heals a man who is possessed by a demon. St. Ambrose in the fourth century points out that Jesus' healing of this man at Capernaum on the sabbath reminds us of God's acts of Creation that ended with the sabbath. Jesus is the Creator-in-the-flesh who came to earth to complete the work of Creation. In the same way that the Word was with God ordering Creation in the beginning, Jesus the Word-made-flesh ordered the Creation by His healing at the synagogue.
Finally, consider the theme of authority. Above all else, I believe this week's passage is about Jesus' acts of establishing His earthly and heavenly authority. Coming from His temptation in the wilderness in which the devil offers Jesus worldly authority (Luke 4:6), Jesus goes to Galilee in the power of the Spirit to reveal that He possesses God's authority. The Greek word is "exousia." As Jesus teaches in the synagogue of Capernaum the people are astounded because His teaching is with "exousia" which means force, mastery, and power. Matthew, the Gospel writer and disciple of our Lord, teaches us that "all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus." (Matthew 28:18).
We should note that Jesus' authority is one we are left to accept or reject. The people of Nazareth rejected Jesus' authority. Why? Because Jesus proclaimed that His work of ordering the chaos was not only for the Jews but for the Gentiles as well. In every person's journey, a decision must be continually made to either submit to the authority of Jesus or to reject His authority. Submitting to Jesus' authority is not the rejection of life to its fullest. Quite the opposite! Submission to Jesus' authority orders the chaos of our lives and brings the life giving Spirit of God to us. What areas of your life do you need to submit to Jesus' authority?