God’s Heart for The Poor – Luke 4
Thank you for joining us this week as we take a look at a number of Scripture passages in a quest to see God’s heart for the poor and His call to us as Jesus followers to serve the poor.
Today’s passage is from Luke 4, where Jesus announces His mission in the synagogue at the beginning of His public ministry,
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
This passage is so powerful as Jesus proclaims His Mission of seeing God’s Kingdom break in to the here and now and the imminent defeat of the kingdom of darkness. It becomes even more powerful as we consider conditions on the ground as Jesus makes this proclamation – the people waiting for The King who was to come and overthrow Rome and finally deliver God’s people from their oppressors. Hope had arrived.
However, in some circles the radicalness of this passage has been diminished. There have been efforts at times to interpret this passage as only having spiritual significance. We read it as the good news for the poor being the preaching of the good news to those who are spiritually poor, the freedom being for those of us who were imprisoned by sin, the recovery of sight being a spiritual coming to see Jesus, the freedom from oppression being the spiritual deliverance of us as a people and the proclamation of the year of the Lord’s favor being a spiritual knowledge of God being for those who will believe. Of course, this is good news, but what if there is more?
What if Jesus came not only to fulfill this spiritually, but also practically? What if the good news for the poor is more than just a spiritual promise of heaven someday, but a call to even the poor to experience life to the fullest here and now? What if it is a literal freedom for those who have been imprisoned – not only by sin but also in the natural realm? What if recovery of sight spoke of a physical healing and wholeness that Jesus was extending to those who would encounter Him? What if the freedom from oppression also pertained to those who are oppressed by individuals and cycles and systems and societies and that their loads could be lightened as part of the Good News? And, what if the year of the Lord’s favor truly points toward what it seemed to point towards in context which was the Year of Jubliee where slaves were set free, debts canceled and land returned to previous owners in a God ordained sort of way that meant a regular reordering of status, wealth and freedom?
If we look at Jesus’ ministry as a follow up to His declaration of His Mission, I believe that we see Him doing all of this – on a spiritual and a natural level. If we interpret His Mission within the whole counsel of Scripture and see God’s concern for those on the fringes as expressed from one cover to The Bible to the other cover I think we get the same message. His message, actions and Mission overcomes any form of dualism that would try to point to the spirit being more important than the body. In Jesus’ interactions with people – His encounters, healing and teaching – it seems over and over again that He is concerned for the whole person. He was concerned about; restoring the dead to life, seeing lepers reenter society, freeing those who were demonized, seeing widows provided for, healing the lame, embracing the sinners in daily life, teaching of how the poor are positioned to more readily enter the Kingdom than the rich AND also calling people to saving faith. He proclaimed the coming of God’s Kingdom in fullness.
I believe that we see God’s huge heart for the poor here. But, there’s something more. Jesus speaks of being anointed to see these things come to be. We then see Him anoint the 72 followers to go and do the same. And, in turn, by The Holy Spirit we are anointed to actively partner with God in this activity. The activity of seeing souls and bodies made whole. The activity of seeing people set free spiritually as they are delivered from evil spirits while also seeing them set free practically as we are agents of justice on individual levels and societal levels – lightening the loads that weigh them down.
It is an amazing call that we have been anointed for…may we be about our Master’s business in following His example in His power.
Join us tomorrow for a look at another passage.
Good Post Jerry.
How do you understand the definition of poor?
Is it those without food, clothing, and shelter or do you see it as more general than that? (like a class distinction or socio-economic status)
I would appreciate the perspective from a brother in Ethiopia compared to what I see here in the urban U.S.
Hi William. I think that is a great question that you ask…What is the definition of the Poor. I think it is very complex to define…just like poverty is a complex issue to try to address. Here are some of my thoughts on who is poor.
1. Those who are without shelter, food, clothing and other basic material necessities of life are poor. This material poverty is what we see so clearly in our area, and I think is what we typically think of when we think poverty. I think that God speaks clearly to us through The Bible about the need to address poverty on this level. I think of God’s words through Isaiah of, ” Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?….and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry.”
If we add here Jesus’ words in Matthew 25of “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” There is a material poverty that we are called to address.’
2. Poverty of relationship, status, power and voice. I believe there is a strong sense of poverty for those who are vulnerable, powerless & socially outcast. Perhaps this poverty strikes even deeper than material poverty. I would see the widow and the orphan here. People who without anyone else to come alongside them they will suffer not only materially, but also because of lack of caring relationships around them. In the words of a friend of mine, “They have no Champion.”
The Bible clearly points to addressing these forms of poverty, for example:
– James words to us to “care for the orphans and widows in their distress” or –
– Jesus’ words mentioned above, “I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
– Isaiah 58, “6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
– or Psalm 68, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. 6 God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing;”
3. Poverty of Image or being. There is an effect of poverty (even among those that are not materially impoverished) that leaves them unable to see themselves as created in God’s image. Their dignity has rotted away. This is a destructive force. One of our Moms in the project recently described it to us as a cancer. She was talking about how she used to beg, but now she sees that it was a cancer that was eating away at her inside. She said with a big smile that she is now Free! She is working a hard job which she gets paid very little for – and in many ways is still a victim of injustice and is very impoverished – yet for her she walked out of a lot of poverty that day as her dignity was restored. She can now see a glimpse of the image that God has created her in. We know that when she comes to know Jesus she will be able to see it in even greater fullness…but for now she has a glimpse of God’s original intention and design. Some of this also plays out in how we were designed by God to have a place and to do what the Westminster Confession describes as the chief end of man is “to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” Without the capacity to engage in using whatever little or a lot God has given to us to use for His glory. I see a key here to be relationship over a very long haul.
4. Poverty of spirit. This one tags off of the above one as a result of our separation from God. I find that spiritual poverty is a huge hurdle. It is even larger for those of us in The West. We are used to having comfort around us and so while we don’t struggle as significantly materially, we do have a poverty that goes very deep. We look at those who are impoverished with an envy as to how they can persevere and have joy with so little while we have so much. I am struck by Jesus’ parable of the banquet in Luke 14 where all of those who had possessions or somewhere to be came up with excuses of why they could not come to the banquet, so the Master sends the invitation out to the poor, the lame, the broken, the blind and they responded to the invitation. In their poverty they saw their need for fulfillment in their spiritual poverty. Those of us with wealth struggle to see the spiritual poverty that we have. I personally believe that as we reach out to those who are impoverished in the other 3 ways above, then with God’s help we can being to address the poverty which we ourselves struggle with.
To define poverty (or the poor) is tough and requires us to keep a number of ideas in tension, in my opinion. I think all of these are best addressed through long term relationships where we continue to peel back layers of poverty and address them along the way.