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Preaching Good News to the poor. Luke 4.16-21

Luke 4.14-21

Pieter Breugel the Elder. The Preaching of St John the Baptist


The Kingdom of God is good news for the poor, the captive, the blind and the oppressed

In Matthew and Mark, when Jesus comes out of the wilderness and begins his ministry, he announces the Kingdom
He preaches: The Kingdom of God is near, repent and believe the Good News

Luke is slightly different. He is speaking to people who don’t know their Old Testament, who don’t really understand what the Kingdom of God is. And Luke instead tells us what this Kingdom will look like.

Instead, when Jesus comes out of the wilderness, and begins his ministry, he declares

“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,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Luke 4:18-19

The Kingdom of God is good news for the poor.

“to bring good news to the poor… to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

That is a consistent message of the Bible, and in particular, in Luke’s gospel

Later, Jesus says

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
“Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Luke 6:20-21

Jesus here does not define the poor.

Basically, it is anyone who is in desperate need, anyone who is forced to beg.
The poor are those who are sleeping in the metro because they don’t have a home, who are hungry because they don’t have enough food, or who can’t clothe their children or who can’t pay the medical bills.

And some of you here are poor. I know of one of our regular members who, for a time when he had no work, was forced to beg on the streets

And I don’t think that Jesus is here passing any judgement on ‘the poor’, good or bad.

People can be poor for many reasons: bad decisions, a chosen lifestyle – drink or drugs, mental illness, limited ability, other people’s hostility, the exploitation by the rich and powerful, sickness or simply a rotten set of circumstances.

I’m not actually sure that Jesus is asking us to judge.

Elsewhere he tells us that if someone asks you to give them something, if you can, you should give.

Of course, we need to be sensible

A year ago we started to hand out clothes in winter from the parsonage.
It became very clear that one of the people from round the corner, who is often outside what I call the Resurrection Church in Bryusov asking for money, realised he had struck gold and was on to a good thing and started to provide a little business providing coats and clothes that we had given him to other people – for, we suspect, a little something.
Perhaps that was his business between him and God, and we should have continued to give while we had something to give, but the whole thing became unmanageable.

Jesus says that, as a general rule, if someone asks you to help, you should give.

Does that include the beggar in the street? Does that include the man who is smelling of alcohol who comes up to you and asks for money?

I don’t know. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Probably I should give more often than I do. Am I being taken for a ride? Yes, probably! But again, that is their problem not mine.
And of course giving money is the easy option. But we simply do not always have the time or the energy to take someone to a café.

But actually, let’s get back to the passage, because Jesus says nothing about that here.

All he says here is that he has come to preach good news to the poor.

He speaks of how he has come to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Now most people think that he is referring to the year of Jubilee. We don’t hear much about the year of Jubilee in the Old Testament, apart from in Leviticus 25.

There, God tells the Israelites that every 50th year was to be a year when slaves were freed, debts were forgiven, land was given a rest for the year and returned to its original ownership.
“And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty through the land to all its inhabitants’ (Leviticus 25.10)
We do not know whether there ever was an actual Jubilee year in the history of Israel. But Jesus here is proclaiming the Jubilee of jubilees

And when the Kingdom of God comes in its fullness, it will be good news for the poor.

There will be justice.

Those of us who have used our wealth to exploit the poor will be exposed. Those of us who have used our wealth to simply have a good time while others have suffered because they have nothing will be exposed.

In Mary’s song, which she sings when she is told that she is to be the mother of the Son of God, of God’s king who will rule the world, she is so certain of the promise of God, that she speaks of the Kingdom as if it has already come.

‘He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.’
Luke 1:52-53

And there will be righteousness and peace and joy and abundance

There was an old Soviet joke that did the rounds.
Why was the garden of Eden like the Soviet Union?
Because Adam and Eve had one apple between them, and thought they were in paradise.

Well, in the Kingdom of Heaven, it is good news for the poor: because there will be abundance
There is a lovely picture of how people will sit each under their own fig tree.

“In that day [says the prophet Joel]
the mountains shall drip sweet wine,
the hills shall flow with milk,
and all the stream beds of Judah
shall flow with water”
Joel 3:18

The Kingdom of God is good news for the poor

And the Kingdom of God is good news for captives, and for the oppressed

“He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives .. to let the oppressed go free”

When Isaiah first spoke the words which Jesus uses, he was speaking to the people of God who were at the time captives, oppressed in a foreign land, in Babylon.

Some of you who are older here may know a song by Boney M,
‘By the rivers of Babylon, where we sat down,
and there we wept, when we remembered Zion’.
That was a song based on Psalm 137, and it was about the experience of the Israelite people, when they were captives in Babylon.

And the prophet Isaiah comes and says: I have good news. I have come to proclaim the release of the captives. You are going home.

I know that this is not a direct application of these verses, but again I am conscious that even here we have people who are not prisoners, but who feel captive. You cannot go home: because of health or travel restrictions, because you don’t have the money or because of the situation in your home country.

Well, the good news of the Kingdom of God is that we will then be home: and this will be our true home. The place where we are welcomed, where we know we belong, where we are understood and where we understand.

The Kingdom of God is good news for the oppressed

The strong will not stand over the weak and use them or force them to be who, or to do what they want them to do.

We are much more aware today of how even the language we use oppresses certain people. And it is important to be aware of that.

The problem is that, in our sinfulness, the new language removes certain distinctions and certain value judgements but is just as oppressive as the old language. Only it is now different groups who find themselves at ease with the new language and other groups who find that they are crushed.

It is the story of every revolution, especially if it is violent. It is because of sin. It is Animal Farm. The oppressed, having thrown off their chains, move into the old farmhouse and become the new oppressors.

The good news is that there will be no oppression in the Kingdom of God. We will speak the language of heaven – the language of praise, of love, which matches reality. And each of us will be free to be that person who God created us to be, and we will be free to do what we were created to do.

And we will delight to do God’s will on earth, as the angels delight to do the will of God in heaven.

And the Kingdom of God is good news for those who are blind

“and recovery of sight to the blind”

I think that this category stands out because it is slightly different from the other categories: the poor, the captive, the oppressed;
It also stands out in the Greek – it is sandwiched between ‘release to the captives’ and ‘setting the oppressed free’.

So I think that we need to pay it a little more attention.

In the Kingdom of heaven the blind will see.

Of course, Jesus is speaking of the physically blind – and the physically deaf or mute or lame.
And we are told how in the Kingdom of God the blind will see and the deaf will hear and the mute will speak and the lame will leap for joy.
And as Jesus gives sight to the blind and opens the ears of the deaf and the mouths of the dumb, so he gives us a glimpse of the coming kingdom.

But giving sight to the blind – that seems to be important for Luke, who was himself a doctor.
The final miracle that Jesus does in John’s gospel, before his death, is raising Lazarus from the dead
The final miracle that Jesus does in Luke’s gospel, before his death, is giving sight to blind Bartimaeus.

And perhaps Jesus is not only speaking here about giving sight to the physically blind – but also giving sight to the spiritually blind, to the people who could not see God or the things of God, to you and to me.

When I was a vicar in Holloway, I used to visit Derek regularly. He had a genetic disease and was going blind. We prayed that his sight would be restored. Nothing happened – apart from one quite little but wonderful gift from God. In the middle of one church service, Derek suddenly was able to see – clearly, without any difficulty. And then, as suddenly as it had come, it went. But the thing about Derek that has stuck with me was that, as he lost his physical sight, he grew in spiritual sight. I used to go round to share a passage or thought with him or to pray for him – by the end, before I left London, it was him sharing an insight with me, and praying for me.

This is Jesus’ manifesto.
No, it is in fact the manifesto of the Trinity
Notice here how Jesus says, ‘The Spirit of the Lord [God Almighty, the one who has just called Jesus his beloved Son] is upon me’.

And it is also to be our manifesto.

But please be cautious here:

Some would call us to become justice warriors to bring in that kingdom: to fight against every injustice that we perceive – whether through peaceful protest or even direct action.
The problem with that is that either we end up standing over others, taking the place of God in judging them, or we end up completely exhausted and worn out.

I do not find that in Jesus’ ministry. I do not find that in the gospels or in the lived experience of the early believers.

Rather we are called to take a different, more radical approach.

We are not called to bring in the Kingdom of God.
It is not our job to do that.
That is the Lord’s job. And he has done it, and he will do it.

We are called, like Mary, despite all the evidence to the contrary, to believe the promise of God that he will bring in his Kingdom.
We are called to pray for the Kingdom
We are called to announce the coming Kingdom, to invite people to become members of the kingdom.
We are called to begin to live as if the Kingdom of God has come in our own lives – to live it in relation to our family, our friends, those we disagree with, those who we think are wrong. And for those of us who have, we are called to be generous and to give – but much more on that in the coming weeks.

Dick Lucas was appointed vicar to a church in the then finance centre of London. He spoke of how he went with the desire to be a pastor to young men and women who would become national and international leaders. But, he said, after he arrived the first person who God sent to him was a man who had learning difficulties, in the world’s eyes a nobody. He loved him, he pastored him and he saw him come to Christ

I know the church, especially at the hierarchical level, and I guess I am as complicit in this as anyone, would love to woo the wealthy and the powerful.

But it was the assumption of Jesus, the experience of the early church, and to be honest as I reflect on my experience of over 30 years of ordained ministry it is that the message of the gospel, the good news of the kingdom, has a particular appeal to the weak and despised, to the dispossessed and odd; to the prisoner and to the alien and the stranger.

We preach good news to the poor. We proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

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