Last week’s gospel reading in the lectionary was from the gospel of Luke and it describes Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry going into the synagogue in his home village and reading a short passage from the writings of the prophet Isaiah. What he read was this:
"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."
And then it says that Jesus proclaimed to the audience that "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
The inference here is that Jesus is claiming that Isaiah is referring to Jesus, ie that Jesus is the one anointed by God to lead the Judean people to a new relationship with God; that he (Jesus) is the long-anticipated Messiah.
So if that is true, then this passage serves as Jesus’ mission statement. What is of interest to me is that Jesus’ self-described mission is not inherently religious, at least not in the way that we think of religion in this culture. Jesus’ mission is primarily political; only the restoration of the blind’s sight is apolitical. Though even there, we can look at how disabled persons are treated in first century Judea and construct a political subtext. In other words, Jesus’ mission has nothing to do with going to heaven, or personal morality but instead has everything to do with creating a just society.
In comparing life in most modern industrialized societies to life in the Roman Empire, we live in paradise. And American and European culture is inherently Christian in its assumptions and perspectives, that perhaps it is no surprise that institutional Christianity is on the wane – so much has already been accomplished.
Of course, that’s probably not true. The Church thought it had accomplished Jesus’ mission back when the emperor Constantine came around to their way of thinking 1700 years ago. The great historian of the church, Eusebius, implies just that and believes the takeover of the church by the imperial court was God’s greatest victory (mind you he saw it the other way ‘round).
But I do find it depressing, as a Christian, to see many of my so-called brothers and sisters leading the fight to maintain the old, unjust societal systems created to maintain hierarchies of privilege. My reading of the bible does not lead me to see Jesus’ life, death and resurrection as something so small as a fear based system of moral rectitude designed to deliver me to some otherworldly realm of ease. Rather, I see an invitation to immerse ourselves in the messy world so that we, emboldened and made fearless by Christ’s actions, can demand and implement changes in human society to create a more just world.
And by the way, the bible suggests that the return of Christ is the descent of heaven so that it and earth are one and the same. Where do we get the idea that our destiny is a disembodied eternity?