I receive a daily meditation from Richard Rohr. Today he speaks in a way tyhat echoed what I was trying to express yesterday:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me . . . he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners.”
~ Isaiah 61:1
In this reading from Isaiah, the prophet describes the coming Servant of Yahweh. It is precisely this quote that Jesus first uses to announce the exact nature of his own ministry (Luke 4:18-19). In each case Jesus describes his work as moving outside of polite and proper limits and boundaries to reunite things that have been marginalized or excluded by society: the poor, the imprisoned, the blind, the downtrodden.
Jesus’ ministry is not to gather the so-called good into a private country club, but to reach out to those on the edge and on the bottom—to tell those who are “last” that they might just be first! That is almost the very job description of the Holy Spirit, and therefore of Jesus. Today some call it God’s unique kind of justice or “restorative justice.” God present with us and in us, Emmanuel, justifies things by restoring them to their true and full identity in Himself, as opposed to “retributive justice” which seeks only reward and punishment.
Jesus ministry is not to gather the clean and sanitised and take them into a private club. Jesus ministry is to those who are told they are unwanted, those whose hurting make us feel uncomfortable because we know our easy ‘pat’ answers have no weight, those who are stuck in the filth of our society.
But … and a big BUT has hit me today while talking with a group of young people. What if Jesus is talking to us from the other side of this passage? By that I mean, we so easily read this from the oppressed point of view, or from a neutral view where we are called to join in helping the oppressed. We read this from a viewpoint that sees ourselves as part of the answer.
But … what if we are part of the problem …
What if we are the oppressors?
What if we are the people that break hearts?
What if we are those who imprison?
If we take a global view, then we, in the west, could be assessed as such. On a global scale, we are the rich. With that knowledge, how do we hear those words of Jesus? What is our response? What should be our response? What response is there?
During Advent that is quite a sobering thought.