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 let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
With these words from Isaiah, Jesus inaugurated his ministry. His work would be about release from captivity and restoration of sight. The burden of oppression would be lifted and the favor of God restored. They were big promises and spoken in such a way that the specifics of their meaning have been interpreted in a variety of ways.
Just what was Jesus announcing? The release from Roman oppression and the restoration of the glory of David’s Kingdom? The promise of the “healing of all ills, in this world and the next”? The forgiveness of sin and the resulting reconciliation with God? Where on the continuum between physical and spiritual realities do we place these promises? What can we expect from Jesus? In light of this promise how should we pray? From what oppressive forces is he promising to release us and to what state of being is he restoring us? And when is he going to do this? In this life, or the next?
Good questions, for which I have few definitive answers. These words have throughout history proved to be a sort of Rorshach inkblot into which biblical theologians have projected a variety of meanings. Jesus’ announcement of the character of his ministry has been the foundation for things as diverse as political revolutions and separatist apocalyptic communes, ecstatic worship practices and measured theological explanations, people who dedicate their lives to doing battle with demons and people who passionately work to establish justice in the broken social and political systems of our world.
If I am to take the opportunity to say what I see in the inkblot of these words, I would say I see the offer of relationship: The offer to lift off the oppressive burdens that destroy relationship and so usher us into a place of liberty that fosters lasting relationship with God and others. I hear Jesus saying, “I’ve come to the end the isolation that leads you into poverty. I’ve come to lift off the weight of loneliness that keeps you in darkness and chains. I’ve come to reintroduce you to the reason for which you were made and restore you to the relationship that is at the heart of all of your other relationships. I’ve come to remind you that you are loved by God and that this love has the power to shape you into all that you were created to be.”
In another place Jesus says, “I’ve come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” That life can take a variety of forms. Our prayers for that life express themselves in a variety of ways. But beneath and above all this variety, what holds these various manifestations of goodness and abundance together, is the simple truth that we were created by God for relationship with God, and it is within the boundaries of this relationship that we are released into the broad and open space that we were meant to occupy.
Dave Rohrer, 6/12/19