Dan Trabue, in a comment thread at Stones Cry Out on Black Liberation Theology and liberation theology in general, held that Jesus message (and more generally the main thrust of Scripture) was one of class warfare and providing assistance to the poor and oppressed. I disagreed. Mr Trabue asked for my interpretation on the verses of Luke noted above. I’ll quote the ESV as it’s popular with many bloggers (and online and easily accessible):

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land,and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.

I had previously noted that Matthew (and as it turns out Mark as well) both when noting “Jesus first preaching” or “Jesus begins to preach/teach” his call was for repentance, which I was arguing was at the heart of Biblical teaching not social issues. It is interesting as well, via Luke, to note the first teaching of the Apostles noted in Acts after Jesus leaves them, “Repent … ” is their theme as well. Mr Trabue keys on the quoted verses from Isaiah and notes connects this with the idea that Jesus mission. The key question then is who are the “poor”, the blind and the captives (oppressed). I think that neither Jesus nor his hearers took “the poor” not to mean the poor (blind and oppressed) dwelling among those in Israel, but instead the common notion was that all of Israel itself was poor, blind and oppressed. In noting that Jesus mission is one to help the literally poor and oppressed is to get his point exactly backwards.

The major themes of Old Testament are one of exile/slavery and redemption. Israel is enslaved in Egypt and is redeemed by Moses. Then, later, they are enslaved in Babylon. In the first century, they have returned … but are still enslaved (now by Rome, but that only replaced Greek/Alexandrian rule). All of Israel hopes for redemption and a release from bondage. They yearn for a second Moses, the Christ to return and redeem them materially and politically with fire and the sword (or other dramatic acts like the parting of the Red Sea) as God had done for them the first time. This is exactly the same sort of redemption that Mr Trabue hopes for the poor and takes as the message of the Gospels. This is exactly the notion which Jesus rejects however. Jesus countered the peoples expectations (of the liberation theologians) and the 1st century Hebrew people. Jesus didn’t give the expected response (John 18:36) “Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.'” Specifically, Jesus came and offered a healing of Adam’s fall, emptying the tombs, and healing creation. The “poor” are all of the Israel. The “blind” are those hoping for political redemption. The liberty that is promised is, in Dostoevsky’s/Zizioulas’ terms the “ontological freedom” made available to either the person willing to die (Dostoevsky) or Baptized into Eternal life (Al of Christianity via Zizioulas).

Filed under: ChristianityMark O.Religion

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