The gospel reading this week comes from Luke 4. Jesus has just quoted Isaiah 61 in the synagogue on a Sabbath, stating that his mission is the same; that God “has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners…” and so on. “Today, this has been fulfilled,” he says (Luke 4:21). His mission is freedom and deliverance and grace.
And then in the section we’re given this week, Jesus goes on to speak a bit more about his mission. He gets more specific. As Karoline Lewis puts it, Jesus “...reveals for whom [he] has come -- the widows, the lepers, the outsiders. Jesus’ whole ministry will be for the least of these, over and over again. Moreover, Jesus is for everyone” (2). And with that revelation, he is promptly driven out of town, his life threatened, and he must escape by (presumably) miraculous means.
Why were those folks so enraged by Christ’s words there? Back to Dr. Lewis: “Jesus’ sermon in Nazareth is a prophetic message. Jesus tells the truth about the realities of our world, where the lowly are looked down upon, where the poor sleep in cardboard boxes under freeways, where the captives remain in their prisons, where the rich live exceedingly full lives.” Jesus confronts their, and our, privilege.
The outcast, the forgotten, the marginalized, those who exist in the liminal spaces - those are always the ones at the center of Christ’s gospel. And we do well to hear, and to allow the spirit to work her grace on us as we confront our own privilege as hearers, to allow ourselves to give up the prized place of centrality in the narratives we tell ourselves.
It may make us mad at first. It may make us want to run Jesus, or whomever the prophet confronting us happens to be, out of town or off a cliff (3). But if we’re following Jesus authentically, we will have to confront our own privilege, grow some compassion, and get outside of ourselves. Here is a prayer for that process.
God, we know from the message and example of Christ
That the poor and helpless are beloved by you,
That the outsider and outcast occupy your heart,
That the lonely and the prisoner have your attention…