Let the Oppressed Go Free…

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“He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives to let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18). When Jesus rises and selects this reading from Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth, his listeners are impressed, indeed moved by the way he reads it. We can assume that it was like they were hearing those words for the first time, or in a way that they had never heard them before. They could not take their eyes off of him. Then they hear him say: “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in our hearing” (verse 21).

At first they all look at him with amazement and speak of him with admiration. But then their eyes fall away, they come back “down to earth” and they can only see him as the “son of Joseph” the carpenter. They cannot accept that “someone of such common stock” could fulfill what the prophet Isaiah had written in that scripture. Like so many today, they wanted proof. They wanted him to do in Nazareth, his native town, what they had heard he had done in Capernaum. Jesus tells them, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place” (verse 24). At this they became furious at this “upstart.” O, how quickly the human mind changes. One moment they are thinking of him with great admiration, the next, they want to throw him down the brow of the hill that Nazareth is built on.

Are we any different? How many “prophets,” good men and women of God who grew up with us, were just like us, but suddenly started challenging us with their obvious goodness, or made us see our sinfulness and tried to call us out of it, have we told to “get lost”? This message that Jesus reads from Isaiah, and fulfills with his life, death, and resurrection, is still with us today. Jesus came among us and remains with us today in his Holy Spirit. We are the poor, the captives that he has liberated. To hear that we are poor, to be told that we are captives of our passions, our worldly desires, makes us angry. We do not want our pleasures bothered. We do not want to be seen, or revealed for what we really are. We would rather go on in our old ways, to not be challenged to let go of our pleasure seeking habits. But in releasing us from this captivity, from this poverty of goodness, Jesus has invited us to do the same for others.

As Christians, sooner or later, we come to understand that the life of Jesus, the Good News, is a paradoxical challenge to the world and all that the world considers wise and valuable. As we grow in the faith we begin to slowly realize that the worldly desires and passions that have become habits in our lives are really making us their slaves. At some point we become aware of the fact that, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). This insight in faith is why we can “preach” the Good News of Jesus Christ to others from a position of humility. We can empathize. We have been there. Indeed, we are still engaged in the lifelong struggle to be free from those things. But we have come to know that we have a friend in Jesus. He is our guide, our support, and our champion. Indeed, he has liberated us from our captivity and the oppression of our old ways. And that means that it is now our job, as his disciples, to be engaged in the necessary efforts to free those who are suffering not only from their sinful ways, but also from any kind of political, social, or economic oppressions in our own times. That is our calling and duty as Christians.

Lord, we thank you for fulfilling the prophecy of the ancient prophet Isaiah. In you we have been liberated from sin and called to the fullness of our salvation. We ask you to make of us good and faithful servants of your Word in our daily lives. And we pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.