Luke 4:19-19 is often called the Nazereth Manifesto. It is Jesus’ proclamation about who he was, what he was going to be about, and how he saw his ministry. In a sense, this is also the “first gospel.” What I mean by that is Jesus in pointing to himself as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s text and that this would be a proclamation of good news:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Clearly, in Jesus’ understanding of what the gospel would be about and who it would be for, is the idea of justice and restoration. Jesus points to the role of the Spirit, the barrier breaking Spirit of a coming Pentecost. The gospel was never supposed to be a few propositions to be believed privately that would do nothing to help the poor and needy, the captive, blind and oppressed. It was never intended to be merely mental assent to a kind of argument that was merely about cosmic justice, it was meant to be a real message of hope for real people who were hurting.
In contemporary society, the church has become the furthest thing from a people with a message for the poor. Instead of being pushed by the Spirit to the least, the lost, and the last, the church is often squabbling over its own preferences. The church usually only spends the smallest fraction of its budget to help the poor, and most people in the American church likely do not even know the name of one homeless person. Stratified by class, the bulk of the church’s outreach is geared toward those we would most benefit from having join our body, rather than who would benefit from our fellowship the most.
The good news is not about free seats in a social club that happens a couple hours on a Sunday morning. It is not that there is a place to sing “the old hymns the old way” to one’s heart’s content. It is not even that there is a place available for one more like-minded person to worship God. The good news is that there is a powerful Holy Spirit at work in the world that wants people who have not yet experienced freedom to do so. The good news is that the poor have a Savior who died for even them, that through the cross the blind can see and the oppressed can be free.
The gospel is a powerful thing, a life changing message. The problem is the church often sends the reverse message: it sends the message that God loves those who are already free and already see, who already crawled out of the gutter and into the pew, who are already living into the blessings we see as signs of God’s favor. We expect people to get fixed and then come, rather than simply come broken before God and receive. The last thing many people want is a church building full of wounded and weary people with issues… but clearly that is what God wants. He wants the least, the lost, and the last. And He wants a church that boldly seeks the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit and is willing to bring that illuminating flame out into the darkness, shining hope into the lives of those who desperately need it. How do we become the hands, feet, and mouth that really brings good news to the poor? How do we learn to share a holistic gospel that includes justice and freedom, not just for the souls of people…. but also for their physical needs?
As you spend 20 minutes in silence, consider the saying: “The church is supposed to be a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints.” What is one place you might go to encounter someone who is poor, oppressed, literally of figuratively blind? What are the obstacles–internal or external–that stop the church from reaching out? That keep you from reaching out?