Introduction - The Social Ills of Jesus' Day
“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,
to set free those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
We are in a post-Easter moment as we watch the world struggle with what it means to be truly resurrected; changed and transformed, for the sake of the gospel, the good news that God is with us; now and always.
In Jesus' inaugural sermon to his hometown of Nazareth, he places justice front and center as his primary ministerial purpose. For Jesus, justice isn't a side hustle that earns him extra cash on the weekends. His entire ministry is built upon a justice platform - addressing classism, ethno-centrism, health care, poverty, and other evils in the world, all while connecting these things to a proclamation of good news.
What is that good news?
In the Book of Luke, Jesus often equates the Kingdom of God with the good news. We often think of the Kingdom of God as being Heaven, or something far off in the distance. But in Luke 17:20-21 it reads: Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, "The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is within you.”
Understanding what the proclamation of good news is all about changes how we work for and achieve justice. Knowing that God's Kingdom resides within us means that we have everything we need in order to makes this world more just; a place where all are welcome and all are afforded the things that we all need in order to thrive.
Jesus doesn't hesitate to put the wealthy, including the religious leaders of his day, on notice. They gobble up a large portion of the resources while those who work tirelessly to make their bosses wealthy exist of a fraction of those resources. Jesus speaks loudly and clearly to the necessity of welcoming the immigrant and foreigner. The misnomer that calls for keeping the races separate and pure was never God's intention.
We see Jesus healing every disease under the sun without charging anyone for his time or trouble. He brings sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, makes the cripple or lame walk, he heals the disease of leprosy, he heals mental illnesses, a hemorrhagic woman, sick children, and even raises people from the dead (both spiritually and physically). Jesus also frees the oppressed - that means literally every one who is shoved into the margins for the color of their skin, for who they love, for their country of origin, for their lack of resources, for being born a woman, and so much more.
This work that Jesus is engaged in is Kingdom work. Jesus is showing us exactly what it means to participate in abundant life right now - by recognizing that the kingdom of God is within and by being aware of the social ills that prevent God's justice. It is up to us to do something about the injustices that we bear witness to on a daily basis.
We are now living in a time where our social ills will be our undoing. Every day on the news we hear about new legislation begin passed somewhere in the US that limits the freedom of those most oppressed in our society. We are blind to the hypocrisy of our words - to say that we believe in the sanctity of all "life," but refuse to limit access to certain types of guns which ends life; to keep people in poverty by limiting their access to resources while those who have resources in abundance continue to thrive; to profit off of other people's pain by charging exorbitant prices for prescription drugs and other medical care which encourages folks to choose between life-saving medication and/or treatment, and putting food on their tables; and we do this all the while claiming the love of God.
Over the next several weeks, we are going to take a deep dive into the social ills of Jesus' day and compare that to where we are now. Have we made any progress at all in ushering in a more just society? Or, have we perfected the practice of idolatry by placing money and things over relationships?
It is is true that God's kingdom is within, then how to make that kingdom fully known in our time? How do we reshape our message of love and hope so that those who are looking for a God who genuinely cares for them can actually be found? At what point do we stop attributing so much hatred to God and actually start loving our neighbor as ourselves?
May the message of Christ be fresh in your hearts as we continue in this Easter season. The power of resurrection is that we can always start over; may that moment be now.