The great prophet Jesus embodies and enacts God’s will for the world.
Yesterday, in the Gospel of Luke, we observed how Mary models what it means to see and respond to the world through a God’s-eye view of reality. Today, we will examine Luke’s introduction to Jesus as the embodiment of the many ways God levels the playing field by lifting up the lowly. In Luke’s portrayal, the prophet Jesus embodies and enacts God’s will for the world. The following passage might be characterized as the “mission statement” of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel.
When Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring the Gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:16-21).
By quoting the prophet Isaiah (61:1-2; 58:6), and telling the audience that Jesus fulfills this scripture, Luke points to Jesus as the prophetic Messiah who embodies and enacts what God desires for the world.
• Jesus becomes God’s spokesman to the world; he will proclaim in word and deed a God’s-eye view of reality to all who will listen and respond.
• God has “anointed” (Greek: chriō) Jesus for this mission; this Greek verb chriō is related linguistically to christos, the Greek word for “Christ,” meaning the “anointed one.”
• Throughout the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles (a two-volume set according to most scholars), the Holy Spirit is the energizing and motivating force behind the mission and ministry of Jesus and his followers; the presence of the Spirit in Jesus confirms his anointing by God.
The mission of Jesus includes bringing the Gospel (NRSV: “good news”) to the poor. • The Greek word euangelion used in this passage can be alternately translated as “gospel” or “good news.”
• But as we see from the stories throughout Luke’s Gospel, Jesus does not simply orally preach a message of future hope to the poor; he actually feeds them! The “gospel” or “good news” is less about talk, and more about meeting the basic needs of others: poverty and hunger are not part of God’s plan for the world.
• As faithful followers of Jesus who have also been anointed with the Holy Spirit, we, too, are called to bring the Gospel to the poor! The mission of Jesus also includes setting people free from oppression, captivity and blindness.
• We are sometimes blind to the ways that the economic and political systems of the world take advantage of some people and even oppress others.
Last week I was driving on the highway behind the truck of a national retail chain, whose motto was boldly stenciled on the truck: “always low prices.”
• The motto caused me to wonder whether my own desire to pay the lowest prices for goods and services makes me complicit in a worldwide system that causes some people halfway around the world to work in dangerous conditions for low wages so that cheap goods are more readily available to me.
• A prophet is a person who heals our blindness by pointing out relationships between neighbors that have become distorted, forgotten and abused, so that corrective action may be taken to forgive, restore, and reconcile broken relationships. But is that person halfway around the world really my “neighbor”?
Also, as I write today, an article appeared in my local newspaper and identified the top twenty consumers of water in my part of drought-stricken South Texas.
• The people named use millions of gallons of water each year at their beautifully-landscaped homes.
• Can they hear this prophetic critique leveled at their over-consumption of a precious natural resource?
• Can we, too, hear this prophetic word and take responsibility for our own use of the limited natural resources of our region?
Questions for Reflection
• In what ways has God anointed you with the Holy Spirit to bring the Gospel to the poor and feed the hungry in your world? How are you responding?
• Where do you see people in your world struggling against systems that blind or oppress them? What actions might you take to help free people from this kind of bondage and oppression?
• Where might you be complicit in larger systems that oppress or abuse other people or some aspect of God’s creation?
Lord God, who desires justice and mercy for everyone: activate your Holy Spirit to heal the blindness that prevents me from seeing how people around me are oppressed and abused; give me the wisdom to know how to respond; and inspire me to speak out and act so that others might be freed from all such injuries. Amen.