ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Later, Levi invited Jesus and His disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.)” (Mark 2:15 NLT)
Recently, a fellow colleague and friend of mine got into a conversation about the scripture passage I was preaching on at the church that I serve. The passage is Luke 4:14-21 and is on Jesus’ first recorded visit to the synagogue in Nazareth following his baptism and wilderness experience. In that passage, Jesus is handed the scroll of Isaiah and he opens it up to the following passage: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the LORD’s favor has come.” Inspired by the conversation, I have decided to devote a series of devotions on this particular passage, which has become known as “The Christian Manifesto”.
Part 5: The Poor.The scroll of Isaiah was unfurled, opened to the sixty-first chapter, and handed to the familiar face of hometown carpenter boy turned prophet and healer. Jesus of Nazareth looked at the scroll, found the place from which he was to read, and began to utter the words slowly and clearly. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he began. All eyes were fixed on him intently, waiting to hear these words which had been read countless times before. Prior to this day, plenty of people had read the famous words from the profoundly influential prophet Isaiah. They knew these words and had heard the discussions surrounded its meaning. Everyone knew that these were the words that foretold the coming of the day of the Lord, the day when God would level the playing field, right the wrongs, and liberate all of Israel from her oppressors. Still, they had NEVER heard these words from the mouth of a commoner, the mouth of a carpenter, the mouth of someone who had been gone a while and come back so remarkably different than the person they they knew.
“…for God has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.” The words quickly reverberated off of the walls of the small stone synagogue and into the ears of those gathered around this carpenter. They knew these words and had prayed to be able to live to see the day of their fulfillment. After all, each person in that synagogue were peasants. They were poor, hard-working people who had barely anything to show for all of their hard work. They not only were taxed on any kind of income, but they also had to yield a tenth of their grain crops, a fifth of their wine, fruit and oil, and they had to pay off the crooked publicans that collected their taxes. Yes, these people could hardly wait for the day when there was finally Good News for the poor.
It, no doubt, came as a surprise to the people of Nazareth, as well as the people in ancient Palestine (aka Israel), that this Jesus wasn’t necessarily referring to them as the poor. Nor did the “good news” he preached seem all that good to them! There Jesus was saying that he was anointed by God (which is code-speak for Messiah) to bring the Good News to the poor, and yet he was traveling with a tax collector and other sinners! The tax collectors were particularly despised because on top of the regular taxation the Romans forced them to pay, they would raise the amount owed and keep the rest for themselves, becoming rich off of their own.
How could Jesus preach about bringing Good News to the poor and hang around tax collectors, who were themselves rich in their corruption? How was that possibly Good News for the poor villagers of Nazareth? Whether they realized it at the time or not, Jesus was about to shatter their understanding of God’s justice as well as their understanding of what it means to be poor. In fact, he’s about to do the same for us as well. Jesus does not, ever, define who the poor are. Nor does he define the “least of these.” Instead, he simply served the poor and the least of these whoever they were. Good news for the impoverished is the cessation of being shunned and away out of their poverty. Yet it is not just the impoverished who are poor. The rich, though not impoverished, are poor in other ways. God does not call us to only fill the need of some, but to fill the needs of all who are in need. While the rich might be first in the bank, they might be the “least of these” in terms of spiritual depth and purpose. The question for us today is this, who are “the poor” in your communities, and what is the GOOD NEWS for them?
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“No one has ever become poor by giving.” – Anne Frank
Lord, help me to hear the Good News that I need in my life, as well as be the conduit of the Good News in the lives of others. Amen.