OK, onto chapters 3 and 4 of Luke. Chapter 3 begins with a section on John the Baptist. He is preaching and baptising in the river Jordan and the crowds come out to see him. He preaches that people need to repent before God, and that being of the right lineage is not enough to avoid God’s judgement-
“I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (3:8-9)
Quite naturally, the crowd respond “What shall we do then?” John’s answer is revealing:
“The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same. Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do? “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” (3:11-14)
This is an answer that has social action right at the heart of it. Repentance is not just about saying sorry, but it is about turning one’s life around, away from the sinful behaviour. In this case, John’s listeners should turn towards God’s justice, making sure there is enough food and clothing to go around instead of storing it all up. This matches what some of the OT prophets, particularly Amos were saying. (In Amos’ time Israel was busy keeping all the religious festivals but ignoring the plight of the poor – Amos rebuked them for it). I wonder what John would make of the so-called ‘Christian’ West storing up treasures, food, clothing, wealth for themselves whilst there are so many in poverty worldwide.
Chapter 4- And Jesus has been through the temptations in the wilderness, and he goes back to his home town. He goes into the synagogue, opens the scriptures (at Isaiah 61:1-2), and reads:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (4:18-20)
This is a quite astounding statment about who Jesus is. He is saying about himself that he is the anointed leader (Note that both the word’Christ’ and ‘Messiah’ mean ‘Anointed One’) that God has sent to do extraordinary things. Firstly, to preach good news to the poor. Why to the poor? Well, it is good news for everyone but it was the poor that would feel it the most. They are the ones who were most likely to recognise that they needed help/a saviour in order to be right with God. Their life circumstances are more likely to be dramatically changed as they find purpose, identity, and community in the people of God. The gospel turns human structures upside down, and restores all people to dignity, so that there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28). Jesus spent most of his time with people on the edge of society who were shunned by the rest; they gained great dignity from that.
He also claims freedom for the prisoners and to release to oppressed. There were some then and now who have been literally released from oppression by the power of the Holy Spirit, whether physical oppression or the oppression of addictions. Prisoners who have discovered God’s love for them find that, even though their outward circumstances might not change, their are truly free and find a new lease of life within their spiritual freedom. But everyone gets to be released from the oppression that is slavery to power of sin, which captivates all of us (read Romans 5-8 in this light)