Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Message of Release

In Luke 4, following His trial in the desert, Jesus returns to His hometown of Nazareth.  While He is home, Jesus attends the weekly synagogue service, something it seems He did on a regular basis.  As such, He is asked to read from that week’s assigned text and provide a teaching on the meaning of the text.  In the text for his sermon, Jesus links Isaiah 61:1-2 with Isaiah 58:6.  Together these passages herald the coming of the Messiah, the one who will “bring good news to the poor.”  The poor in Luke’s Gospel are not only those who are poor financially but also those who poor in spirit.  Jesus says that He will overturn the social status of the poor and redefine the term as a cultural term rather than an economic term.[1]  The Messiah will not only “bring good news to the poor,” He will also “proclaim release to the captives.”  Later, in Luke 5:20, Jesus heals a paralyzed man by proclaiming that the man’s sins have been forgiven.  The Greek word from which we get “forgive” can also mean “release.  Therefore, Jesus literally released this man from his sins!  When He came “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” Jesus came to proclaim a message of forgiveness and release from sin.

You may be wondering why I offer these thoughts from Luke 4.  Well, on one hand, I am teaching a summer class on Luke and Luke 4 was today’s reading.  Preaching and teaching, after all, finds its genesis in our own daily disciplines.  On the other hand, this reading causes me to stop and reflect on what message I offer to people each week in my preaching and teaching.  The air in religious circles is always thick with debates and discussions.  The battles that are waged in pulpits across the country today over the theological and political definition of marriage or the role of women in church leadership are not new topics, just this week’s or this year’s topic.  These are important theological and political issues that church-folk need to address.  However, let us not get so bogged down in counting how many angels can stand on the head of a pin that we forget to “bring good news to the poor” and “proclaim release to the captives.”  There is a time and place for defining the particulars of our doctrines and practices.  We should and must do so if we are to consider ourselves pious (i.e., practicing) Christians.  Yet, let us not forget our mission.  For as long as there is breath in our lungs, our mission is to “proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,” which means bringing “good news to the poor” and proclaiming “release to the captives.”

[1]Joel B. Green, The Theology of the Gospel of Luke, New Testament Theology (Cambridge, UK/New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 81-82. 

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