Sacrificing for the poor & afflicted

I cannot get past the first clause in Isaiah 61, the scripture reading for this week.(1)

The LORD God’s spirit is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me.
[God] has sent me
to bring good news to the poor (Isaiah 61:1a CEB)
Specifically it is the “anointed me” and “good news to the poor” that bogs me down. This passage is deeply unsettling. I perceive the the presence of the still speaking God, of the Holy Spirit in my reading of these ancient words of the prophet Isaiah. We are embarking on an era (at least in the US) in which compassion and supports for the poor are likely to be rolled back rather than improved. They are not good now. There is very little good news for the poor (or oppressed, or meek, or afflicted depending upon translation) in 2016.

The good news for the poor/afflicted/oppressed will very likely have to come from outside government. In an era of declining revenues, the church would appear to be wholly unprepared for picking up the slack and speaking good news in action for the poor.

Yet…that is what I perceive God calling us to become. Jesus was not a landowner. He didn’t have a home and a paying profession. He sacrificed all that — and his life on the cross — to bring good news to the poor and afflicted living on the margins of ancient society.

BUT it is more than just the role of the church.

This stuck in my craw feeling feeling I have is personal. It should be personal for all of us claiming to follow Jesus. Our baptisms, whether with water or just spiritual, are our anointing. Isaiah was speaking to our ancient kindred suffering humiliation and discrimination 400 to 500 years prior to the birth of Jesus.

Liberation theology rightly claims tells us that Jesus has a preferential option for the poor. Both the Hebrew texts and the New Testament emphasize care and compassion for the orphan, widow, poor, and others living outside the power structures of his day. In the fourth chapter of Jesus reads this very passage from the prophet:

He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
    to proclaim release to the prisoners
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
    to liberate the oppressed,
    and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. 

He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him. 21 He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.” Luke 4:17-21 CEB

This is our task if we are to follow the Christ. Like Jesus, our task requires sacrifice. Bringing good news to the poor, the afflicted, and the oppressed has always been threatening to the powerful.


(1) This is a reflection on the narrative lectionary reading for Sunday, December 11, 2016. The full reading is Isaiah 61:1-11.

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