Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

What Kind of Freedom does Christ offer?

Isaiah 61 is that passage quoted by Jesus when he reads the scroll of Scripture in the Synagogue. What I find significant, in studying and preparing to teach on this, is that Jesus doesn’t read the whole passage. He stops mid-sentence, after ‘the favorable year of the Lord’, but before, ‘the day of vengeance of our God.’ Then, significantly, he says, ‘today THIS scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’

Why would he do that? It appears, from the perspective of history, that this was his approach because it was his way of saying that the ‘day of vengeance’ wasn’t yet here. There are all kinds of signs that have unfolded to confirm this, including the fact that he rides into Jerusalem on a donkey during the last week of his life, which is a symbol of a king coming in peace.

If we would only embrace this reality, we would save ourselves a lot of heartache. The fact that the ‘day of vengeance’ isn’t here yet means that the power structures of this world aren’t yet toppled. These are structures which oppress and create untold suffering (have you heard about the food for sex scandals in Liberia, for example?), and yet they remain in place. So, of what use is the gospel then, if these structures continue?

The promise seems to be that we granted the capacity to overcome, living joyful and purposeful lives, right in the midst of suffering. Church history certainly bears this out, as we can see the oppressed and downtrodden of this world living lives of dignity in the midst of their victimization and oppression.Tragically though, in some circles where the church and political/military might have joined hands, this teaching has been twisted to justify the church’s oppression of her converts. The word describing that is ‘colonialism’.

But the church is never invited to be the oppressor – only the liberator. And the sooner we who have means and power begin to view our liberating role holistically, the better off all will be. Where that happens, the church works to bring freedom from addictions, AND freedom from economic enslavement. It works to end the demonic oppression that comes from embracing false gods AND it works hard to end physical oppression as well. This is a calling worth living for!


At 9/5/06 18:27, Anonymous graham said...

Thanks Richard, this is one of my most favorite moments in Christ's ministry. Another thing this passage invites us to do is to drop our own versions of the apocalyptic dualism that filled the synagogue Jesus was teaching in. Jews understood the Messiah to be a liberator on behalf of Israel only.... Israel= Righteous/Good, Gentiles= Unrighteous/evil.
The examples Jesus uses to ellaborate on the Isaiah 61 text (as your read on Luke4:23-28) have to do with O.T. feedings and healings of Gentiles, not Jews. (thus the people became angry because they understood this is what Jesus was saying and it was subverting both their understanding of what Jesus was going to accomplish as well as who would recieve his "liberation")
So Jesus ushered in this time of liberation ... for all people... and the danger with our dualism.... in waiting for God to right the wrongs and bring his "vengence" is we can become complacent to our role in being liberators ourselves. We can be like much of the church today, who just point the finger at sinners and speak of their coming judgment, rather than joining in with Christ and his "current" focus.

At 10/5/06 21:24, Blogger Jim Underhill said...

I like the picture of Jesus giving us 'life' and 'lifegiving'; these gifts being the result of our freedom. It's a new life in Christ that we have with the responsibility to pass on life to others.

Staying with this picture, we the church love the 'life' we received, but can certainly improve in the 'lifegiving' department. The first is something that we can keep and be cozy with, the latter requires getting off our behinds and engaging life. May we be as eager to be givers as we have been receivers of this freedom.


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