(I was reading over some “old” writing of mine and this one asked to be published…perhaps it is a chairos thing….)
Luke gives us a picture of Jesus’ early preaching/teaching ministry. In it Jesus appears to be clearly stating his purpose as he unfolds the words of the prophet. We find it in Luke 4:16-21:
16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18″The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed, 1
9to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[a]
20Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (NIV)
The phrase that grabbed my attention was in verse 18. Jesus tells them in verse 21 that today that scripture is fulfilled in their hearing, so it seems to me that he is saying that God sent him to proclaim freedom for the prisoners.
I remember when I met with my lawyer for the first time. He cautioned me in my zeal to be honest. He recounted that many believers who found themselves on the wrong side of the law, who thought that by telling the truth they would be set free from their consequences. I don’t find that in scripture. My understanding of many texts throughout the Bible portrays a loving God who doesn’t remove the consequences (just take a look at David who lost his son) but who promises to walk with us through the consequences even to restoration (see Micah 7: I will be patient as the Lord punishes me, for I have sinned against him…The Lord will bring me out of my darkness into the light and I will see his righteousness.).
What then is this freedom of which Jesus spoke and the prophet wrote? Let me first begin by pointing out how important this message must have been both to the heart of God and the ministry of Jesus: this is his first recorded message. Position is a powerful indicator of the importance of a topic. This passage is heart and soul to everything that Jesus would be about.
With that in mind, I believe that the message was to the prisoners. Unfortunately, as with many of the things that Jesus taught, I believe that it was highly likely that Jesus was misunderstood. To a people who had known captivity and injustice this was a message of physical and national redemption. I don’t, however, believe that was the emphasis Jesus wanted to make. I believe that the freedom was not so much freedom from something as much as it was freedom within it. There would not be the removal of consequences, but there definitely was promised the grace to endure and actually be able to count it all joy.
I’m finding that one of the toughest places for a prisoner to find freedom is freedom from judgment. No matter how much time one has done in jail or prison or on paper, there will be those who feel it is never enough. And that leads me to the second audience for Jesus’ message: those who have never broken the law.
I remember the interview I had for my present position. One of the board members asked me when I had experienced restoration. In part, it depends on where I am. With my family, it feels complete. Among my closest friends it is complete. But it is in the church where I still struggle to feel forgiveness. It is in the church where I feel the oppressiveness of judgment. It is in the church where I feel the least free.
Now, please let me hasten to say that there are pockets of loving, accepting, and forgiving people in the church. They have ministered abundant grace to my aching heart and reached out in love and forgiveness. But this experience has not been across the board. And quite honestly, I don’t expect it to be. That’s why I believe that Jesus’ message is twofold. First, I can’t wait to find freedom from my circumstances. There will be people who feel totally justified in their daily role of judge and jury (and sometimes executioner). I have to accept them and accept the freedom in my circumstances that Jesus offers.
But I also believe that Jesus is challenging those who have stood in judgment and continued to hold crime against a person, never allowing for repentance or restoration. His challenge is that they should bring freedom to the prisoner as well. If a person expresses genuine remorse and repentance, restoration should follow.
Jesus’ words are life-giving to those who have been through poverty, prison, illness, and oppression, but the joy is short-lived if we aren’t lovingly restoring the wayward back into life and fellowship. Remember, it isn’t much further into His ministry that Jesus makes it quite clear that with the same measure of mercy and forgiveness we offer to others we ourselves will be judged.
(This is just a start…but I wanted to put the thoughts out there.)
Let’s consider a few biblical examples. Let’s start with Paul, or Saul as he was still known. He is a murderer and an all out zealot to squelch this new band of believers. God has other plans and there on the Damascus road Saul experiences God in a whole new way. His life will never be the same. The problem was: who does he tell and how? No one is going to believe him. How will he ever experience the full freedom of following Christ and answering his calling if he constantly is judged for who he was? What if Barnabas had never stood up for him and in doing so set him free to serve?