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Home » Society » Religion » Good News for the Poor (A sermon on Luke 4:14-21)

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Good News for the Poor (A sermon on Luke 4:14-21)

Submitted by davidsmith197
Sat, 2 Mar 2013

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me!"

Who said it?

Jesus of course … sort of.

It was printed on the front of our Sunday pew bulletins, so Jesus must have said it, and He did say it … sort of!

Jesus said it. It was part of the address He gave in Nazareth. The problem was that He went on to say a bit more, and quoting only a part of a sentence someone gives can be misleading. It's like quoting me when I say that ‘I believe what our politicians are telling us' and leaving out the word ‘NOT' at the end of the sentence.

Jesus did say "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me" but He didn't end His sentence there. What He said was "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor!" and that's something quite different, and something that the person responsible for the artwork on our pew bulletin evidently didn't feel quite as comfortable with, probably because it all seems a little too exclusive!

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me" is a relatively warm and fuzzy thing to say, especially for regular middle-class, church-going people. Jesus is revealing His identity as the anointed one of God! That is something we can all say a hearty ‘Amen' to! "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim god news to the poor" is a far less appealing thing to say, especially to regular middle-class church-going people, most of whom are not poor.

Was Jesus trying to be offensive? If so, He certainly succeeded that day in Nazareth. According the Gospel-writer, Luke, what started out as a friendly synagogue service with Jesus as the guest preacher ended up as a riot with the congregation attempting to lynch Him!

Were they right to be offended? Should we be offended? Did Jesus target us too? Or, to put it more precisely, did Jesus define is mission in a way that excluded us?

For this sermon, recorded in Luke chapter 4, is a very significant one for Jesus and is a very significant one for us as we try to understand Jesus.

According to Luke, this was Jesus' first sermon. He was back in his home town as the guest preacher and it was there that he chose to inaugurate His ministry, and it seems that He used this occasion to define his ministry - both in terms of His self-understanding and of His God-given mission, and He chose to describe it all in this way: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor!"

What did Jesus mean? Who are these poor that Jesus came to proclaim good news to? Are we included or was He directing His message at somebody else?

And the related problem is that ‘good news for the poor' tends to have a flip-side - namely, it's ‘bad news for the rich'! Was that a part of His message?

It's a bit like national security. Whenever a country talks about increasing its national security they always mean at the expense of making somebody else more insecure.

It was Chomsky who first pointed this out to me, though it should have been obvious. For our country to be ‘secure' from our neighbours we need to be able to thump them before they can thump us, which means that if we achieve that security we have, by definition, put our neighbours in a more insecure position relative to us!

‘Good news to the poor' functions along roughly the same lines, I think. It inevitably comes at somebody else's expense. You can't have ‘good news for the poor' without it being ‘bad news for the rich' … can you?

Or perhaps He was talking about the ‘poor in spirit'?

You remember them - ‘blessed are the poor in spirit' from the ‘Sermon on the Mount' (Matthew 5). None of us are quite sure who the ‘poor in spirit' are meant to be but it sounds as if we could all be included in that group!

The problem is that if Jesus is not referring to some amorphous group that can more or less include everyone then it all starts to sound rather exclusive and as if the good news of Jesus wasn't' really meant for us at all!

"Peace on earth and goodwill to all men" - those are the tidings of comfort and joy proclaimed by the angles to the shepherds as recorded in the Gospel of Luke a couple of chapters earlier. Well … not exactly! Luke 2:14 reads:

"Peace on earth and goodwill to all men upon whom His favour rests".

Again, we can understand why people truncate the verse a little to make the good news sound more appealing and inclusive, but if we are genuine in wanting to understand Jesus - the real Jesus - and if we are serious about wanting to proclaim ‘the gospel' as Jesus understood it then we can't keep chopping verses in half and cutting out the bits that we don't feel comfortable with.

Jesus was anointed ‘to preach good news to the poor'. How do we understand that?

Thankfully we don't have to go too far to find the answer to this one as it's here in Luke chapter 4. The key to uncovering it though, I believe, comes when we realise that Jesus is engaging in exactly the same sort of misquoting procedure that we've been accusing others of doing!


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