“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim
that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the downtrodden will be freed from their oppressors,
and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”
I mentioned this passage yesterday, and sort of left the question open of how we live it out. I’d like us to also consider a second passage:
John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”
Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.”
When Jesus begins his ministry in his home town, the things he mentions are striking: captives will be freed, the blind see, and the downtrodden will be freed. I think even more striking than that, however, is his response to John’s disciples. When they ask if he’s the Messiah, his answer is very pointed: “Go back and tell John what you see…” I think Jesus’ words have some critical implications for us today – if we claim to be followers of Christ, our actions will attest, or not, to that label. Jesus doesn’t answer with a theological statement, or a scriptural exegesis of why he is the Messiah – rather he answers simply to observe what is going on around him – the blind see, the lame walk, the dead are raised, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.
As we walk through life, I think it’s important for us to hear the description of Jesus’ ministry that he gives in the synagogue that morning. It is important for us to be concerned with the poor, and not just in a trickle-down economics sense. Jesus, importantly, doesn’t tell us to “fix” the poor – but rather to preach the Good News. “Fixing” someone or “helping” them in our context generally means that we give money to some organization or church which then sends others to help the poor, effectively outsourcing our need to do anything. I think Jesus, on the other hand, calls us to personal contact.
Before we are able to do that, however, I think it’s important that we actually have Good News to preach. I think it’s essential that we formulate a message that doesn’t simply promise a good life after you die, but a valuable, significant life in the present.
At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.
It’s interesting to note what how the word “saved” is used here. In the past, I’ve tended to read this on the plane of “Jesus came so I could go to heaven”, but I don’t think that’s what Paul has in mind here. Once we were foolish, we lived in malice and envy – but then God’s love and kindness saved us. He saved us out of that life and brought us into a better one where we don’t have to spend our days hating everyone and being envious of everything.
When we look again at Jesus’ call, I think it’s easy to see that in a very real sense, each of the things he says applies to me – I was captive to my hollow ways of thinking, blinded to the truth of God, and oppressed by a system that I’ve been born into that constantly tells me, essentially, that I’m not good enough.
But into that world comes Jesus, proclaiming that the time of the Lord’s favor has come – now. “Today,” Jesus says, “this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”