Revelations from the Word

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The Aliyah of Jesus

by Jean-Louis Coraboeuf

"He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and, as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath Day. He stood up to read, and He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. Having unrolled it, He found the place where it was written: The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because he has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor… Then He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. All those who were in the synagogue had their eyes fixed on Him. Then He began to say to them: Today this word of Scripture, which you have just heard, is fulfilled" (Luke 4:16-21).

The administrator of the synagogue calls people to 'go up' (aliyah in Hebrew, plural aliyot), each one in his turn to the Torah to read from it; which is an honour. Several people go up in that way to read from the Torah on the day of the Shabbat; a priest, if he is present, is called for the first aliyah, then a Levite for the second aliyah, and an Israelite (and others if necessary) for the following aliyot. In order for an Israelite to be able to do aliyah he must have done his Bar Mitzvah at the age of 12 or 13. And so the Torah is read by the priest, the Levite or an Israelite, then the Haftorah is read by one or several Israelites. The Haftorah is made up of texts from the Prophets which are related to the portion of the Torah which is read.

After his Bar Mitzvah, a boy can pursue his studies in a yeshiva, a school for the study of the Torah, to become a rabbi or a priest, or learn a trade, in general, his father's. His parents being of modest means, Jesus therefore learned the trade of his father, Joseph, after having done his Bar Mitzvah (Luke 2:41-42). According to the Jewish Law, He could read publicly a portion of the Torah or Haftorah, but He was not authorized to comment upon it; it was reserved for the rabbis, the priests and the Levites who had received the authority of their masters (Luke 20:2). When the Lord called him, Moses made his aliyah onto Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, "Moses went up to God" (Exodus 19 and 20), in the same way, when the administrator called Him, Jesus made His aliyah towards the Haftorah to read the passage which was speaking of Him.

Jesus whose custom it was to go to the synagogue on the day of the Shabbat, must have been regularly called to make His aliyah to read the Torah or the Haftorah. However, He was not authorized to comment on the Scriptures. That is why the people were astonished when He took the word and said, "Today this word of Scripture, which you have just heard, is fulfilled". Certain of them said, "It is the son of Joseph", understood within that He is a carpenter, why should we believe Him? And Jesus was not accepted in His own synagogue, and He even had to flee the anger of his fellow countrymen for no prophet is well received in his own country (Luke 4:23-30).