Liberation in Christ

Epiphany 3 – 2010
Luke 4:14-21
Marian Free

In the name of God in whose Son, Jesus, we are set free to live. Amen.

In the last fortnight, a prisoner walked out of a court in Brisbane, 12 dangerous criminals escaped from a prison in Papua New Guinea, and all the jails in Haiti were destroyed, freeing any prisoners who might have survived. It makes you think: Is this what Jesus means when he said: “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives.” Has it come true in our time? I’m sure that many of us would hope this was not the case! However sympathetic we are to other means of punishment and rehabilitation, I imagine that most of us would prefer dangerous criminals to serve out their time in prison.

All three synoptic gospels mention Jesus’ visit to the synagogue in Nazareth and his subsequent rejection. Luke, however, is the only one who records both the text which Jesus uses and his sermon on that text. It is only Luke who gives a detailed account of the reason why Jesus caused so much offence as a result of his preaching. Luke has a particular interest in Jesus’ visit to Nazareth because whereas Matthew and Mark place it towards the middle of Jesus’ public ministry, Luke situates the story at the very beginning. In this way Luke uses the account to set the scene for the whole of Jesus’ story – a story that will swing from acceptance to rejection beginning in a tiny village in Galilee and ending in Jerusalem.

Luke introduces this narrative with the report that Jesus has returned to Galilee from the wilderness. He is filled with the Spirit and receives a warm welcome from all. His renown spreads throughout the countryside. In Nazareth also he goes to the synagogue – on the Sabbath, as was his custom. (Jesus’ Jewish credentials are thereby confirmed. He is not a Greek teacher, but one who teaches in the Jewish tradition, one who understands the interpretation of the scriptures. He is a faithful, synagogue-attending Jew.)

We are told that Jesus ‘finds’ the passage from Isaiah which suggests that it is his own choice. What is interesting to us is that he doesn’t read the passage as it is written. Even though it is only a short passage, some phrases are omitted and Jesus inserts a verse from another chapter in Isaiah. The passage which Jesus reads is from Isaiah 61:1-2, however, Jesus omits the words: “to bind up the broken hearted”. He adds the words “to let the oppressed go free” to the text and when he reaches the end he chooses to leave out the final phrase: “and the day of vengeance of our God”.

The inclusions and omissions allow Luke’s Jesus to emphasise “release” (aphesis) and “acceptable”) and make it clear that the “today” which Jesus announces is not a time of judgement, but of liberation. Luke has already alludes to the theme of liberation in the story of John the Baptist. At his naming, John’s father Zechariah prophecies that the knowledge of salvation will be known in the release from sins and as an adult, John himself announces a baptism of repentance for release from sin. Release or liberation is already a theme of Luke’s gospel
In Jesus’ reading from Isaiah, the idea of release takes a different turn. Not only are the people of God to be freed from their sin, but we discover that liberation has a social justice as well as a strictly religious element. Not that this concept is new – concern for the poor and the outcast is a consistent theme of both the Old and the New Testaments. If we return to Jesus’ text (Isaiah 61), we discover that the context of the prophet’s words is an attack on the people of God – not so much for the sin of turning against God, but for the way in which they turn to God. As we will be reminded on Ash Wednesday, the prophet is criticizing the people for their over-concentration on ritual, sacrifice, fasting and long prayers. Their so-called worship of God takes the place of care for those in need. In contrast to those who are defining religion in terms of ritual, Isaiah reminds them that faith is really about concern for their neighbour.

God through Isaiah asks: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 7Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”

A key Old Testament theme which is carried over to the New Testament is that no one can be truly free unless everyone is free. The Law is very specific about the need to care for the widows and the orphans and the stranger in their midst. So strong is this tenet that built into the Law is the idea of a Sabbatical year (Deut 15:1-18). Every seven years, not only is the land to lie fallow so that it may have an opportunity to recover, but there is to be a remission of all debts and a release from the bonds of slavery. This is further elaborated in Leviticus where it states that every fiftieth year, or year of Jubilee, not only is there to be a remission of debt and release from slavery, but any land that has been taken from a clan or family due to hardship, had to be returned to its original owners. Every 50 years the playing field is leveled.  So we see in the Old Testament a strong and consistent social policy not only to provide for the vulnerable, but also to create a just and fair society.

There was an understanding that the health of the whole society relied on this care and respect for one another.

This is a truism not only for the people of Israel, but for us all. In the past week, we have become only too aware that our own peace of mind depends in part on the health and well-being of society as a whole. We have been bombarded on our television screens and through our newspapers with images of the unimaginable horrors that have occurred as a result of the earthquake in Haiti. As we watch the grief, the frustration and agony of so many people, we come to understand that we cannot be truly happy while so many suffer such extraordinary pain and hardship. What is true on a global scale is no less true close to home. If we listen to the voices around us, we discover that our sense of well being, our dignity and our self-respect depend to some extent on the degree of dignity and self-respect of our neighbours, of our indigenous brothers and sisters, of the migrants who come to our land and of the poor and dispossessed among us.

Jesus, quoting Isaiah, speaks a universal truth, that freedom for one requires freedom for all. We are not truly free unless all are truly free. Jesus announces a new era of liberation for all. As we receive the gift of liberation which Jesus offers, our eyes are opened to the suffering which is all around us, we are liberated us from the blind indifference which allows us to ignore the effects of poverty and disadvantage, we are released us from our captivity to selfishness and greed. Through the gospel our lives are transformed, we are set free to live, and to bring life to others. As we respond to Jesus’ message of liberation, we are caught up in Jesus’ mission “to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

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