The Good News
I remember standing in the bedroom of the old parsonage behind Crestview Baptist Church. I was shocked. I was bewildered. I was elated. And I was absolutely, unequivocally terrified. I was finding out that Heather was expecting. I was going to be a father. It was one of the greatest moments of my life. It was truly good news.
And it’s not the only good news I remember. I remember the same moment for my son, getting engaged to Heather, our wedding day, and countless other moments when something good happened to change my life when I received and experienced good news. The truth is, we all have those moments we can look back on and relive.
In the passage we read, Jesus has returned after being tempted by the adversary in the wilderness. The Holy Spirit is leading, empowering him to teach in the synagogues and countryside and the people are responding to him. Jesus comes to Nazareth, his hometown, and on the Sabbath, goes into the synagogue the way he had done most likely since the time he came of age. Apparently, it was either his turn to read or as someone who was gaining renown as a teacher, was asked to read from the Scriptures.
In this case, the Scriptures were chosen similarly to the modern lectionary. There would be a passage listed for the week and the person would stand before the congregation, open the scroll, read it aloud, and most likely comment on it in the same way that pastors preach sermons today. The exact mode was probably as different from synagogue to synagogue as the exact mode of worship is different today among congregations and denominations, but similar enough that most synagogues would be essentially the same.
The passage for the Sabbath that Jesus reads in our story is from Isaiah. They would not have had verse numbers, so it probably would have been sectioned off some other way, by paragraph or column or perhaps, most likely, by idea. Jesus reads what we refer to today as Isaiah 61:1-4. It is somewhat paraphrased in verses 8 and 9 of Luke 4 but in the passage from Isaiah it reads,
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
As we have read in Luke 4, Jesus is making the declaration that this is the reason he is here. Jesus is saying to the people of Nazareth that his purpose in being is to be the fulfillment of these ideas for the people he has come to serve. As those who follow Jesus, we too should consider these two central ideas for what it means to live into our faith in God through Jesus. Over the next few weeks, we will look at the aspects of the passage that Jesus emphasizes, particularly the ones in Luke 4 as we look at The Mission.
The spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me
The passage begins, as we said, with Jesus being “filled with the power of the Spirit,” something that also begins the previous section as Jesus is being led to the wilderness to be tempted by the adversary and as Jesus is being baptized in the previous chapter. I think this is significant for a number of reasons but most importantly, I think it points to a reality of our faith. The reality is that without the Holy Spirit of God within us to shape, empower, lead, and guide us, we are not able to live into the Way of Jesus in a true, meaningful way.
Along with this filling of the Holy Spirit, is an anointing of God through the Spirit’s power. This idea of anointing (a word that means Messiah in Hebrew and Christ in Greek) comes from the idea of pouring oil over the head of someone as a sign of their being chosen by God for a purpose. In the Old Testament, priests like Aaron, kings like David and Solomon and prophets like Elisha were anointed for the tasks that God had given them. Jesus’s anointing/baptism is an anointing of his ministry, a moment when the Trinity comes together as one to celebrate and prepare for the mission ahead. It is an affirmation that Jesus is doing what Jesus is here to do.
As we look at the passage, we will take a different aspect of it each week to see what mission Jesus is being anointed for and by extension, what we are called to live into as his followers. This week, we look at what it means to bring good news to the poor.
In the first part of Jesus’s anointing, we see the purpose of Jesus’s anointing, to “bring the good news to the poor.” I think this points to the desire of God to care for and nurture his children and creation. “…ever since the exodus from Egypt, Israel’s God had demonstrated deep concern for all dimensions of human life. A spiritually healthy community would be a community dwelling in a secure and productive land, and this involved brick and mortar.” Another way of saying this is, “…the Christ is God’s servant who will bring to reality the longing and the hope of the poor, the oppressed, and the imprisoned. The Christ will also usher in the amnesty, the liberation, and the restoration associated with the Year of Jubilee,” a bi-centennial festival celebration where, most notably, all debts are canceled, and all slaves are freed. The good news is tied to the next part of the passage: the anointed one is coming to bring hope and restoration to those who have been denied such things, specifically, the poor. So, just who are the poor?
Poverty in Ancient Israel / Ancient Rome
To say there was poverty in the ancient world was like saying that there might be taxes to pay; it’s not so much a possibility as a certainty. According to one researcher,
In the Ancient world poverty was a visible and common phenomenon. According to estimations 9 out of 10 persons lived close to the subsistence level or below it. There was no middle class. The state did not show much concern for the poor. Inequality and disability to improve one’s social status were based on honour and shame, culture and religion.
In the New Testament, the word used to describe poverty is ptwcoV (ptwchos). The term means those who are not only economically disadvantaged and dependent on others but the oppressed, disillusioned, and those in special need of God’s help. In that period, this was around ninety to ninety-five percent of the general population, with only a handful of people who lived as artisans and tradespeople of any means. An even smaller segment of the population lived as wealthy landowners, particularly in Roman provincial states like Palestine, where a governor and a few local puppet rulers controlled all the wealth.
The poor were rural, usually including those not directly engaged in agriculture, but forced to give up their agricultural (or other economic) surplus to those in power. Normally, they have certain cultural characteristics setting them apart from outsiders. Generally, the poor have very little to no control over their political and economic situation. In places like Roman Palestine during the first century, the rulers of the poor tended to be city dwellers, and a culture-chasm divided the literate elite from the unlettered villager.
So, what is the good news for the poor?
The good news for the poor is everything that follows “He has sent me to preach good news to the poor” in the passage. This good news is bound to the ministry of Jesus where he would proclaim release to the imprisoned, help those who are blind recover their sight, and free the oppressed from their oppression and oppressors. As Jesus steps into this world of inequality, he comes to bring change to the individual and the system.
For some, this is literal. Bartimaeus receives his sight in John chapter nine. Those oppressed by demons and disease find restoration and healing of their afflictions. Those who live under the rule of Roman taxation and indifference and the puppet regimes of so-called Jewish kings find true community and hope for their future in the Kingdom of God.
But there is another truth, a deeper truth that reaches beyond the physical poverty of the people to the spiritual poverty. Those imprisoned by systems of bad theology and social expectation find freedom like the woman healed by touching the clothes of Jesus. Those blinded by greed, social expectations, and the desire for power are given back their sight to see the true reason for our being in God through Jesus, like Zacchaeus restoring money to those he cheated and choosing to follow after Jesus.
This is also good news for us. Those of us imprisoned by a way of life and the social structures that demand we live a certain way or lose connection to our families and communities can find liberation in God through Jesus to lead others out of their emotional and spiritual bondage. We who did not realize our emotional and spiritual blindness see again through the life changing ministry, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus, returning our sight to lead others from darkness. We who are oppressed by the weight of living in social prisons that jailed us in chains of conformity to a way of living that was nothing more than a way of marking time until we died, are liberated to follow the Way of Jesus as the early disciples did.
This is our good news. Live it. Share it. Be it for the world around you.
Bauer, Walter, F. Wilbur Gingrich, William F. Arndt, and Frederick William Danker. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature. 3. Edited by Frederick William Danker. Chicago, Il: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
Brown, Francis, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew English Lexicon. Edited by Sixth. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2001.
Craddock, Fred. Luke: Interpretation – A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990.
Häkkinen, Sakari. “Poverty in the First-Century Galilee.” HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 72, no. 4 (2016): 1-9.
Hanson, Paul. Isaiah 40–66 | Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012.
Malina, Bruce J. The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2001.
Rosenfeld, Ben-Zion, and Haim Perlmutter. “The Poor As A Stratum Of Jewish Society In Roman Palestine 70–250 CE: An Analysis.” Historia : Zeitschrift für alte Geschichte 60, no. 3 (2011): 273-300.
 Luke 3:21-22; 4:1, 14
 Luke 4:18
 (Hanson 2012, p. 224)
 (Craddock 1990, p. 62)
 Luke 4:19; Leviticus 25:8-12
 (Häkkinen 2016, p. 1)
 (Bauer, et al. 2000, p. 896)
 (Häkkinen 2016, p .1)
 (Häkkinen 2016, p. 2)
 Matthew 9:20-22