Luke 4:18, Caring for the Poor

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.”

//These are the words of Jesus, explaining why he was sent into the world by God. It is to bring good news to the poor.

Some context helps. Jesus is just beginning his public ministry, and he returns to his hometown of Nazareth. He enters the synagogue during a Sabbath gathering, unrolls the scroll of Isaiah, and begins reading aloud the words of today’s verse. Good news for the poor. Isaiah’s prophecy continues:

“[God] 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 favor.”

The “year of the Lord’s favor,” often called the Jubilee, occurs every fifty years. It is the year in which debts are forgiven, slaves are set free, and property  is returned to its original owner. It is a law that had fallen into disfavor, and it’s anybody’s guess whether anyone at all observed the Jubilee year anymore by Jesus’ time. Having read these words, Jesus tells the crowd, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Do you share Luke’s perspective? Let’s be clear, here. Luke is not talking about proclaiming the good news of a future resurrection. This isn’t about heaven at all. That is not Jesus’ purpose in coming! We are talking about bringing relief for the desperate and freedom for the oppressed. Jesus’ message is very this-worldly, and his Gospel (which means “good news”) is directed to the peasant. Luke 6:20 is equally clear: “Blessed are you who are poor.” Not “poor in spirit,” but just plain “poor.” Why? Because the Kingdom of God has arrived, and things will now be different.

You’re not poor and oppressed? Then maybe this isn’t very good news. The Gospel message for you, then, is to participate in the fulfillment of scripture, not by receiving but by giving and releasing.

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