Luke 4:14-21 (NRSV)
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 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, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." 20 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. 21 Then he began to say to them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
Full disclosure: Sometimes I read scripture passages like this one and immediately feel guilty. Because if we Christians take our directives from Jesus, my gosh, we have big shoes to fill, how can we possibly?!
Jesus was always bringing good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind and letting the oppressed go free. I want to follow, but I haven’t been around any captives this week – at least not the captives I envision when I read this text…
I envision captives whose lives are totally different from mine. Much more oppressed. Much more sorrowful. Here in Memphis, sure, but definitely in other parts of the world where slavery persists.
Sometimes I have the feeling that I would be a really great disciple, if only the situation were plopped down in front of me. I would make the right decision. With God’s help, I would set that prisoner free.
But when I read this beautiful passage, I wonder “How am I supposed to follow Jesus’ lead to set the prisoners free while I’m fixing sippie cups, or doing dishes and laundry?
Where is there a prisoner to set free in the grocery store?
Or while I’m driving home from work?
What does this captive language really have to do with me?
My guilt doesn’t stop there, though. Sometimes I read scripture passages like this one and I feel guilty because I feel I am the captive. The sippie cups, the what’s for suppers, the dishes, the laundry, the bills, the bedtime routine, rinse & repeat…
Of course, it’s beautiful captivity, and I know it won’t last and I should enjoy our children while they’re young. I hear that advice often, and I get it. As much as any captive can hear those words of encouragement. But the daily grind of existence has been known to take well-intentioned people into captivity. And not just young parents.
Captivity does not discriminate. It waits with open arms for the business owner who feels stuck, captive to a changing economy, a shifting business landscape, and rapid turnover in technology.
Captivity waits patiently to welcome the busy and distracted; or the lonely and depressed.
Indeed, in every stage of life, we are each vulnerable to captivity. And so Jesus’ words mean more than a simplistic command to do good for other people.
His words are first good news first for you and me. Jesus is proclaiming release, freedom and fullness of life for you and for me in all our various captivities.
Of course this interpretation might seem selfish or uncomfortable to us if we’re not used to thinking of ourselves in the position of the captives. Afterall, there are real-life captives across the street from us in 201 Poplar, who surely need God’s love, God’s salvation more than we do, right?
We’re used to thinking of ourselves in the place of someone able to provide help, not receive it.
But as flight attendants remind us every time we fly: In case of an emergency, put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting others.
“In the 1980s, priest and theologian Ernesto Cardenal studied Luke 4 with a group of Nicaraguan peasants. He writes that one woman responded this way: ‘What he read in the book of the prophet is prophecy of liberation. And it’s a teaching that a lot of Christians haven’t learned yet, because we can be in a church singing day and night tra-la-la-la, and it doesn’t matter to us that there are so many prisoners and that we are surrounded by injustice, with so many afflicted hearts…so much unfairness in the country, so many women whose eyes are filled with tears.”
I wonder if she’s right? What if Jesus’ core mission was to teach and preach and live LIBERATION!? To Everyone. To the mom of toddlers, to the lonely teenager, the wealthy businessman, the widow, the imprisoned and the prison guard too?
To you? To me? Each of us has something we need to liberated from.
Henry Nouwen says it well:
“We have to ask ourselves, “What is my poverty?” Is it lack of money, lack of emotional stability, lack of a loving partner, lack of security, lack of self-confidence? Each human being has a place of poverty. That’s the place where God wants to dwell! “How blessed are the poor,” Jesus says (Matthew 5:3). This means that our blessing is hidden in our poverty.”
So what’s your poverty?
What’s your captivity?
What’s your blindness?
Allowing yourself to believe that God wants to dwell with you in your poverty or captivity – wherever that may be in your daily grind of existence – that’s the first step to being a disciple of Jesus Christ.
That’s putting your oxygen mask on first.
Because the truth is – there is a captive world outside our doors, and God has work for us to do to help liberate it!
"Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
Today’s the day, Jesus says.