The Oppressed Go Free

The Oppressed Go Free

Sermon originally preached on January 27, 2019 at Kenai United Methodist Church. Click here for the video recording.

Luke 4:14-21

Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

When he 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 the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
God 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.”

Some context for our scripture today…Jesus is returning to Galilee from the wilderness, our passage just prior in Luke, where he had overcome temptation. He’s traveling around to teach in the synagogues, because people by this point had heard about what he had done. Circuit riding, kind of.

So he ends up in Galilee, which is Jesus’ hometown. While he had already done a lot to prove himself before leaving, this really was the first time he came back in the role he did, and with the presence he had acquired, from his miracles and from the wilderness.

Jesus is being asked to read the word, to teach in the synagogue. It was customary for the leader to stand while they read scripture, then sit back down to speak afterwards. He reads this passage from Isaiah, and he claims the words as his own, as his teaching and his mission statement.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
God 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.”

It is no coincidence that this is the passage he reads. From what we know about him, these words are pretty much exactly what’s at the heart of his mission.

When we hear the words Jesus reads, we can see and read that he’s concerned about the ordering of relationships. He cares about how people are treated, who is being given access to the waters of baptism, and with whom we are naming “the beloved, with whom God is well pleased”.

The words Jesus reads from Isaiah describe his politics, that is, how Jesus orders his relationships. Good news to the poor, release to the captives, bringing sight to the blind, letting the oppressed go free. These are foundational to who Jesus was, and what he was after in his ministry. These words speak to the exact ways we are called to live, when us church folk talk about ‘living like Jesus lived’.

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So these words, his politics, his ordering of relationships, these are the words that become his first address to the people, where he lays out his ministry, and where he visions for what this movement will look like from here on out. Because he has this opportunity, to speak in such a public way, to a group of people who are there to listen, this is an important moment in Jesus’ ministry.

Whether he meant to or not, Jesus lined up the majority of his personal theology and ethics through the words of the prophet, Isaiah. He made a statement, through reclaiming those words, those instructions. As Jesus sat down to teach, he didn’t go into some big drawn out interpretation of what he had just read. He didn’t convince people why it was important, that passage from the scroll.

He sat down, and he said “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” 

If you all have heard of a mic drop moment, this may have been the first instance of it in history. Jesus is saying that his role, as a follower of God, is to lead in the ways of those before him, listening to God and looking to God for guidance and assurance.

This is an important moment, because Jesus is also establishing his sense of authority, and how his authority comes from God ultimately. He’s speaking in the synagogue, not just anywhere, but in his home town. He has his first opportunity to really line up the things he believes, and he does it, through the divinely inspired words of the prophet Isaiah. He’s looking back in history, God’s timeline, to let people know where his mission is coming from, and how he will lead, through his commission.

It’s a big undertaking, this speech and this proclamation. And he says a lot, through his statement. More than making a statement, with his reading of the words in Isaiah, we can summarize Jesus’ game plan with one question: Where does it hurt?

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Jesus calls those in that synagogue to ask that question. Where does it hurt? He called himself, committed himself to ask that question. And he calls us to ask the same one. Where does it hurt?

We as followers of Jesus must constantly be asking that question. Where does it hurt? Our job, as we follow the example of the one who taught good news to the poor, brought release to the captives and sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free, is to ask that question. Where does it hurt?

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To do it successfully, it requires a few things of us. First, it requires that we look. If we simply look inwardly, at the small ecosystem we have created, where things are cozy and familiar, we’re going to think things are okay, that they don’t really require action on our part at this time.

Luckily, Jesus, through all the different avenues we read about, from the stories of performing miracles at the wedding in Cana, to his interactions with the greedy tax collector, to the lengths he traveled to simply sit and talk and eat with people, Jesus showed us how important it is to look, and to look beyond just our little social circle. So, we really can’t do that, and think that will cut it as far as looking outward goes.

If we really look, we are looking outward. We are reading the news, talking to people, truly searching for that hurt, the stories of pain, of grief. And sometimes those are our own stories. When we look with intention, we can begin to ask what hurts. And once we look, we are opening ourselves up to truly seeing that hurt.

It’s hard to un-see this hurt, once we open ourselves up to seeing it for the first time.

Once we look, once we see the hurt, we are asked to respond.

When we respond, we have a very specific job, Jesus teaches. Not to ask questions. Not to try and weigh checks and balances. Not to be the gatekeeper for this work. Not to create some sort of morality code, and judge the people we see, who say they are hurting.

Through Jesus’ mic drop moment, he’s telling us, that it really is as simple as the scripture he read says it.

It’s not a question of who is good, in Jesus’ eyes. It’s not a question of who is deserving or worthy. Rather, it’s always a response to that original question: Where does it hurt?

Are you poor? Receive the good news. Are you a captive? Be released. Are you blind? See, now. Are you oppressed? Go in freedom.

It doesn’t take discernment on our part, to determine who is worthy of receiving these things. These gifts are not being given because the recipients are good or righteous or set apart. They are given because God is good and righteous and set apart.

We are not God. It’s not our job to decide who can receive the good news, but it is our job to look for opportunities to provide it.

Our job is to ask “Where does it hurt?” and be willing to get an answer, an answer that requires a response.

Jesus taught us that nobody is left out. Nobody is forgotten. Jesus’ ‘political agenda’ has nothing to do with a color, with an elephant or a donkey. It revolved around this foundational question. Where does it hurt?

If we are to follow the politics of Jesus, we are being called to ask this question, and to respond accordingly. Where are the places you should be? Where does it hurt?

Our challenge, our call, our commission, is to make more opportunities to ask that question. Our mission is to be willing to look out more, to see newness in this way Jesus teaches those in the synagogue, to be open to seeing the hurt, and then doing something about it.

As we leave today, may we look outwardly intentionally, asking ‘where does it hurt’ in new and different ways. May we be willing to receive an answer, an answer that becomes our task, our chance to impact the lives of our fellow human. And may we look to Jesus’ grand example, Jesus’ politics, in order to realize that our call is ultimately to one another, and that call is good news. Let us pray.

God of grace and eternal wisdom, you pass down your instructions to us today, and you call us good and able to make an impact. Guide us to be Christ’s hands and feet in the places we go and to the people we see. Guide us to love others well, through your call to make disciples. In your name we pray, Amen.

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