As I entered Dr. Scott Spencer’s New Testament class in the fall of 2003, I was terrified. I had always felt ill equipped for biblical conversations. While most of my seminary peers had memorized the ten commandments when they were two years old and knew they wanted to be preachers before they were six, I had grown up completely unchurched and had not even owned a bible until I was 27. Growing up I viewed the bible as a weapon that people used to cut those outside their tribe down, to sift people into categories of “saved” or “unsaved”, and to convict others of sin. In my small town in the heart of the bible belt, the “good news” never felt like “good news” to those outside the walls of the church.
Through a long and painful process, I became a Christian after the birth of my first child. I was given a bible by my first pastor, Rev. Kerry Nelson. A hunger for God developed as I was loved and cared for by the members of Covenant Lutheran Church in Katy, Texas. I spent six years in Bible Study Fellowship, devouring every piece of spiritual insight I could from the wise leaders and lifelong followers of Jesus. But I never lost the feeling of being biblically handicapped. I knew God had called me to the ministry but I was convinced someone up there in the heavenly realm had not read my resume – I was not prepared for this call. So with fear and trembling I walked into my first biblical studies class, certain my ignorance was visible to all.
Dr. Spenser said a lot of brilliant things as he taught us how to read the New Testament at a level that far exceeded my bible study experiences. I don’t remember 99% of what he said but one comment is forever etched in my mind. He said that for the writer of Luke, the words recorded in Chapter 4, verse 18-19, were “Jesus’ Mission Statement.” While there are parallels to this account of Jesus teaching in the synagogue in Nazareth found in Mark 6:6-1 and Matthew 13:53-58, neither account places this at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry the way Luke does and neither Mark nor Matthew mention what text Jesus was teaching from, nor his claim that he was the fulfillment of the text. Luke placed this incident and these words from the book of Isaiah front and center for a reason.
“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, and let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lords favor.”
Dr. Spencer went to say that everything that follows in Luke’s Gospel fits into these categories:
- Good news to the poor
- Release of the captives
- Recovery of sight to the blind
- Oppressed go free
- Proclamation of the Lords favor
As we studied the book of Luke, I found that Dr. Spenser was correct and something shifted in my understanding of the meaning of the “good news.” Prior to this encounter with this text, I thought the “good news” was synonymous with personal salvation. However, that element of the good news, became secondary to this larger understanding. The good news is not simply that when I die, I get to go to heaven. The good news is that through Christ, brokenness here on this earth is being healed. The even better news is that we are invited to be a part of that restorative process, here and now. That blew my mind and continues to confound me.
Now I will never be a biblical scholar and I don’t want to start a theological debate. My goal here is simply this; what if this is true? What if Jesus really did come for this purpose? How does this change how we engage in the world?
If our primary goal as Jesus followers is to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed and to proclaim the Lord’s favor, would we live our lives in the same way? Would we do church the same way? Would we engage in our communities in the same way?
As I began to really live into this understanding of the gospel, everything changed for me. For those of you who do not know my story, I have recorded the early years of my ministry and this radical shift in how I live my calling in my book “From the Sanctuary to the Streets.” The cliff note version is that I started hanging out with those in the margins of society -those who are materially poor, literally held captive and truly oppressed. My family and I left suburbia and moved into the inner city and I now work with churches across our city who are teaching their church members how to follow Jesus on this mission.
As we continue our quest for the spirit of community building, this passage is our starting place. If we are going to create spaces where the soil of a community is nurtured, we have to remember that Jesus calls us into relationship with the poor, oppressed, blind and captives.
What does that look like? We have the rest of Jesus’ earthly ministry as recorded in the gospel of Luke as our guide. I hope you will join me as we continue this quest for the spirit of community building.
If you are joining this conversation for the first time, you might want to check-out these previous posts in this series: