Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Mar 20 2013 - Luke 4:1-30 – Good news for the poor

In Luke's Gospel, Jesus begins his ministry with a reading from Isaiah:

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,
   to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. (Luke 4:18-19)

Having read this passage to the congregation in the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus concludes, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." Jesus adopts this passage of Scripture as his manifesto. It is a declaration of what he, the anointed one, the Christ of God, has come to do.

The passage has echoes of the Jubilee legislation of Leviticus 25. In the year of Jubilee, Jewish bond-slaves were to be released and returned to their own family lands; debts were to be cancelled and each person was to enjoy the inheritance which God had given to his people. These laws were designed to prevent some in society accumulating great riches while others became poor. Jesus came to proclaim a great year of Jubilee. He came to proclaim good news to the poor and freedom for the captives.

This theme is taken up in a stirring, if somewhat quaint, hymn by Charles Wesley:

Blow ye the trumpet, blow!
The gladly solemn sound
Let all the nations know,
To earth’s remotest bound:
  The year of jubilee is come!
  The year of jubilee is come!
  Return, ye ransomed sinners, home.

Ye slaves of sin and hell,
Your liberty receive,
And safe in Jesus dwell,
And blest in Jesus live:
  The year of jubilee is come!
  The year of jubilee is come!
  Return, ye ransomed sinners, home.

Ye who have sold for naught
Your heritage above
Shall have it back unbought,
The gift of Jesus’ love:
  The year of jubilee is come!
  The year of jubilee is come!
  Return, ye ransomed sinners, home.

Our captive world still needs to hear the liberating message of the gospel: Jesus gives freedom to the captives and sight to the blind.

But this message of liberation is not simply about the hereafter; it must also affect the way we live here and now. This was recognised by the Wesleys and by Wilberforce. They believed that the gospel was not only to give hope for the future to the few, but hope now for the many who live in despair. It must bring freedom to the oppressed and, quite literally, freedom to those held in slavery. It must transform the way we live in this world that we might transform the lives of others.

We need to look carefully at our own lives to examine those areas where we may be lending support to systems of oppression and to structures which maintain our own riches at the expense of others – which result in their enslavement. Our embrace of the gospel must involve our adoption of this same gospel manifesto – an adoption that must be more than mere words. We are to become good news for the poor. Our lives, shaped by the Spirit of the risen Saviour, are to be lived in a way that anticipates that great day when all of creation will be liberated from bondage and will enjoy the freedom of the children of God. It's quite a calling!

Find out more this week about the evils of human trafficking and what you can do to join the fight against it.

Father God, thank you that through Jesus you have freed me from bondage to sin and death and made me your child. Open my eyes and make me sensitive to the many ways in which people are oppressed and enslaved in your world. Help me not to perpetuate such slavery through my own self-centred living but to do all I can to campaign and work for its alleviation. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Peter Misselbrook