This week I’m in Guatemala with a service team from my church. We’re beginning work on a multi-year sanitation system for a Maya community, Chuicutama, in the Highlands. Our reflections for the week center on the theme of Jubilee, the biblical commandment mandates forgiveness of debts and economic restoration as part of God’s New Creation.
Jubilee is what Jesus announces as his Gospel in his first sermon in Nazareth in Lk 4. According to Torah, a big part of the good news of the Jubilee is reconciliation of wrongs in the world- a theme Paul picks up in 2 Corinthians.
To complement this theme, I’ve asked Frank Thompson, a friend, parishioner and former biblical scholar (of Jubilee) to offer his reflections.
The days before Jesus arrived at his home town, he began his work by literally re-enacting events in biblical salvation history. His baptism by his cousin John was his “Exodus.” He wrestled with Satan in the Judean Wilderness. He faced down demonic powers and sicknesses of every kind which crippled and imprisoned people. Now, his appearance at his home synagogue in Nazareth on the day of rest spelled out in the words of Scripture what all this meant.
He gave them his mission statement. He asked for the ponderous Isaiah Scroll, and transformed the atmosphere of the synagogue by opening to the words in which the prophet sang of a new and richer meaning for the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25):
“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.”
Yahweh intended the Year of Jubilee to be a Year of Restoration in every physical aspect of Hebrew life: a Year of Renewal, a Year of Freedom, and a Year of Rebalancing of Human and Natural relationships. Debts are to be forgiven, property is to be repatriated, and slaves and indentured persons are to be set free. Fields are to lie fallow for
The essence of this entire behavior was and is to see the Creation as God sees it, to accept that God created it, to live in it, respond to it, enjoy it, and to invite every other person and creature into a world belonging entirely to God, and not to be exploited for selfish ends or taken for granted.
Of course, that’s a mission we would expect of Jesus. He was filled with the Spirit of God and able to live in a world as big and rich as God created it, and to be transparently eager to heal any ill or bring light to any darkness, or even life to any death. He was a man as God had created Man. He walked in the image and after the likeness of God. People sensed that.
Nevertheless, the friends and elders in the synagogue in Nazareth were infuriated by Jesus’ evaluation of their attitudes. They just didn’t get it. They didn’t “hear” Jesus’ call to life at all. They only saw an “uppity” kid or a person with an off the wall way of reading the prophet. Their own ways of interpreting events contrary to their own likings filtered out what they were experiencing with Jesus. Jesus walked out through the confused crowd and went on his way to the crowds and towns of those who would be glad to hear him.
“The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me . . . to bring good news to the poor.” Jesus was a genius at meeting crowds of poor folk where they were and offering them the good news that the Kingdom of Heaven was for them. It was impossible for the crowds around him not to sense the largeness of the life he was living and offering. Everything Jesus had he was willing to give away. He sent his disciples on missions with only the clothes on their backs so that they would not be worried about their possessions. They would “feel into” the lives of the persons they met.
It is often the unforeseen consequence of sending persons on mission from affluent societies face to serve cultures where persons are “dirt poor” and seemingly “backward” that they become overly protective of the technical items they bring with them.
It is well to hide one’s toys or compulsions to say, “Well, why don’t they do it this way or that way?” It is an act of grace and courtesy to listen, to eat their food, and to enjoy their surroundings, and then to answer questions they may ask in response to our ways.
“The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me . . . to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind.” The Palestinians to whom Jesus ministered were for sure oppressed not, only by Roman tyranny but also by the everlasting demands of their religious establishment. They felt themselves to be captives. More than that, the population was victimized by endemic diseases, mental and physical ailments and demoponic and congenital insanity of various sorts. Jesus would look at a crowd and “have compassion on them.” Jesus walked through the towns, the homes, and the country side smashing “prisons” of every human sort, and leaving hymns of freedom behind him.
Do people of the church need to go only to distant places of desperate need to begin such a ministry, or are there such places on our door-steps?
Should persons made in the image and after the likeness of God cultivate the refrain of Genesis One that sees every element the Gods Creation as “good.” Even when Romans crucified Christ, they, an couldn’t capture him. He broke death and led captives to freedom. With that kind of freedom growing in us as the Church, how much healing of life, mind, body, and heart can we see accomplished under the leadership of Jesus Christ? How much hope can we and others feel and see?
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me . . . to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Everywhere Jesus went, he faced a depressed and dispirited populace. His spirit and message were counter culture to the long-established privileged political and economic powers that sucked the hope for a better life out of the people. His message that the Kingdom of Heaven was near gave new hope to the people. His frequent statements that the “kingdom is within you” were electrifying. A kingdom the Romans knew nothing about and could neither tax nor control gave hope. To realize that God has not forgotten us, but has heard our cries, and is with us is to know that we are persons whom God loves and whom God favors. When the disciples of Jesus set out on the mission to which they were assigned, to tell of this kingdom and of this hope, they were uncertain and inexperienced.
They soon learned that the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of God, gave them a success in their witness, and they began to tell the story with greater confidence, and with the accompaniment of such signs and wonders aswere appropriate. The oppressed in the land soon began to follow Jesus in great crowds, until the very last, when he was crucified. Then the witnesses to the Resurrection have been spreading the message of hope ever since. We carry it to persons who watch us to see whether we live our hope. We hope we do.
Jesus said, “Look. I am with you, to the end . . .” To feel the Spirit of Christ wrap Himself around you, and to say to Him, “I’m with you,” is the beginning of a powerful life-mission.