Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The captives and the oppressed

The poor, blind, captives and the oppressed are all named when the Lucan Jesus reads from the scroll of Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” A number of the scholars who have examined this passage have noted that the captives and the oppressed are never mentioned again. These scholars failed to recognize the creativity of Luke.

This “programmatic” passage follows the testing in the wilderness wherein Luke highlights his understanding of Satan as “the ruler of this world.” Luke records the centurion saying: “For I am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come,' and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” This quotation illustrates the power of Satan. The people controlled by means of sickness and demon possession are under the authority and the oppressive power of Satan. Luke regards Satan as a powerful being controlling individuals by means of sickness and demon possession. Luke who was familiar with the writings of Jubilees and 1 Enoch believed that the advent of the Messiah would coincide with the demise of Satan.

It is thus noteworthy that the first healing in Luke involved an exorcism where the demon cried out to Jesus, “Have you come to destroy us?” Was the man in the synagogue with the unclean spirit who was healed that day set free? Was he a captive? Was he oppressed? Susan Garrett in The Demise of the Devil stated that after the testing in the wilderness the Lucan Jesus initiated “a series of incursions into Satan’s dominion, robbing him of his captives by releasing them from illness, demon possession and sin.”

To the extent that the Septuagint had created “character types” for “the captives” and “the oppressed” which the First Reader expected the Author to follow, Luke failed to follow the stereotypes. For reasons unknown to us, Luke chose not to explicitly label those with unclean spirits or possessed with demons or mere sinners as “captives” or “oppressed.” Perhaps he did so for irenic reasons or because neither the First Reader nor most first Jewish people would recognize that they are sinners. Luke intended the First Reader, who like so many persons mentioned in his writings had professed or demonstrated a lack of understanding, to identify himself as a captive and/or oppressed person.[i]

Only Luke among the gospel writers understood the power of Satan. Luke provided new meaning to the words “captives” and “oppressed” for his Isaianic reading. His writings turned the world upside down.

Copyrighted 2008

[i] Paul understood and used the newly defined Lucan idea to provide in chapter 6 of Romans that we are no longer “enslaved to sins.”


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