What do you need?

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And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding region. 15 And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all.

16 And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. 17 And the scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to Him. And He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
19 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

20 And He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all the people in the synagogue were intently directed at Him. 21 Now He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” – Luke 4:14-21 [NASB]

Yellow Flowers-IV | Phoenix, AZ | January 2022

I was deeply struck the first time I read it. Actually “struck” is not the best word to use. I was offended. In the book, The Wounded Heart, the authors claim that the greatest need of one who has been sexually abused is for forgiveness. I was convinced that the greatest need for someone who had been abused was for healing, comfort, and restoration. I won’t try to explain here what the authors took nearly an entire book to lay out. But there was more truth to that assertion than I was first willing to believe.

Which leads me to the words of Isaiah that Jesus read at the synagogue in Nazareth. 

18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
19 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” [quoting Isaiah 61:1-2]

Those most likely to be reading this blog post should not consider themselves to be poor. Most of us are incredibly wealthy in comparison to the rest of the world. We don’t worry about our next meal. We have homes with multiple bedrooms, bathrooms, air conditioners, and appliances. We park at least one if not two or three cars at our homes. Some of us even have investment accounts. We travel the world. We’re not poor. 

And who of us are captive? We freely move about from home to work to school to church, restaurant, sports arenas, parks, and the gym. We give it little thought when we want to go somewhere – even in these days of COVID concerns. If we’re actually reading this we certainly are not blind. And while we might feel oppressed by debt, government or bureaucratic red tape, we’re certainly not like people in refugee camps, communist oligarchies or Islamic autocracies. 

The only thing we might immediately desire from the list of blessings Jesus is claiming to have brought is the year of the Lord’s favor. Now that’s something most all of us would wish for. In the minds of the audience in Nazareth this was a reference to the Year of Jubilee, when slaves were set free, debts cancelled, and things set to a new start. To that we would say, “Bring it on!” We might expand it to include an end to the COVID pandemic, restoration of economic stability, a return to civil discourse in the political realm, and a general sense of better times. These are the gifts we would wish for. 

We could spiritualize the other things on the list: spiritual blindness, captivity to sin, poverty of spirit. These are all real conditions we might consider in an honest moral self-inventory. I’ll leave you to consider how that might apply to you. 

But I want to suggest a different approach to how we hear and respond to Jesus’ words here. There are people who are actually oppressed, poor, imprisoned, and blind. They need our prayers. They need Jesus’ presence and deliverance. It all starts with the favor of God, and the Good News of his love and salvation through the life, death, resurrection, and final coming of Jesus. It might be that we pray for them to be delivered physically and spiritually from these ills. And as we do we might discover that we have been delivered from the blindness to others’ needs, freed from the captivity of constant self-absorbed fretting, and enriched with the true treasures that are found in life in Christ. 

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