“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.”
To tell you the truth, I have been wrestling with this piece of Luke’s Gospel ever since I opened it up at the beginning of the week.
- Not because I question its truth or the wondrous vision laid out by Jesus as he brings the prophetic words of Isaiah to life in the synagogue in Nazareth.
- And not because I wonder whether the vision still speaks today. It surely does.
- But rather because I couldn’t quite sort out to whom these powerful words of promise were meant to bring transformation: good news, release, recovery of sight, freedom from oppression.
What I am getting at is this. It goes without saying that these words are meant for those who are actually poor, in captivity, physically blind, surely, and those who are powerfully oppressed. These words sing for those for whom the great reversal of ‘the year of the Lord’s favor’ — a year of jubilee — would change everything for the better as old injustices are addressed and a fresh start is granted.
And surely that is not ‘me.’
And if you are reading it in this way, I expect you would agree it is not likely ‘you’ either. So, it seems selfish and short sighted to think otherwise.
Or is it?
Because while it is certainly true that the vision laid out by Jesus here is for a world which is shaped by God’s love in a way which is too often not reflected in the world which is before our eyes, even so the gifts envisioned here are surely meant for all of us.
They just come to life in different ways.
Otherwise, wouldn’t that wondrous world we are led to imagine now be entirely out of reach?
Here is how I am thinking about this.
There are a lot of ways to be imprisoned other than the most obvious:
Self-doubt, heightened expectations for what one can do on one’s own, the too low or too high or simply wrong expectations of others, for instance. Priorities which are out of whack can do it. Exhaustion can ‘imprison.’ So can fear. Indeed, too small an understanding of what God can do, what God does, surely ‘imprisons’ most of all.
And so, if any one of these or something you might name which I haven’t thought of stands in the way? If you and I who perhaps can hardly begin to imagine what actual imprisonment is are not also set free, how can we possibly be part of creating the world of which Isaiah first sang which Jesus echoes now?
We are just set free from different things.
Indeed, I find myself hearing now the equally prophetic words of Fannie Lou Hamer, sharecropper and seemingly fearless civil rights activist:
“Nobody is free until everybody is free.”
(You can hear her in her own voice here, testifying at the Democratic National Convention in 1964.)
For countless ones the bonds are cruelly, debilitatingly physical, to be sure.
For others, we are kept in place by bonds which are at their root, deeply spiritual.
And until all of us hear the promise that release from captivity is meant for us, we cannot truly get on board to assist others in being set free. For until then, it seems to me, we cannot fully be vessels for the voice, the hands, the heart of God for this world now.
For we, too, stand within reach of the gifts intended today: good news for the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and the promise of a soon to be time when everything starts over again.
And nobody is free until everybody is free.
And while Fannie Lou Hamer’s point was that the rest of us would not be truly free until the most oppressed were free, it is also so that we cannot be part of Isaiah’s vision which he preached today until we are embraced by that freedom, too. Until we are ‘set free’ from all that keeps us from embracing and living into that vision as well.
Now I know that we are long weary of considering this, but hasn’t our collective experience of this pandemic shown us this deep and profound truth in a concrete way?
Indeed, by now we know in ever deeper ways with certainty that until everyone is free (of the virus), nobody is free. I am sure there are those who disagree with this, although I am hard pressed to understand why.
Indeed, as our hospitals are overwhelmed now — some for the first time, others ongoing, and still others experiencing the impact once again with a new surge of infections, don’t we know all the more that as of now ‘nobody is truly free?’ For the illness of one, or in this case of far too many, impacts the ability of all of us to access health care in a timely way.
And as we see the impact of the virus and our society’s divergent views on how to best address it, we know this is tearing away at families, neighbors, communities, and beyond. Indeed, the implication of ‘nobody being free’ is likely to have repercussions well past the current time we are in.
And so it is, I find myself wondering now what it is I, what it is we, need to be set free from in order to be agents of God’s healing in the world today, right here in this present circumstance. What captivity do I need to be released from in order that freedom might be extended to al those who are held captive or who are oppressed?
For while recognizing the debilitating captivity of this current time is critical to anything that follows, doing so does not go nearly far enough in terms of our receiving the promises of today’s Gospel as meant for us, for all of us.
And oh, I know I need the promise of release from captivity which has passed down from Isaiah to Jesus to the pulpits in which we stand this week:
I need to be set free from my anger at those whose response has been different from my own.
I need to be set free from my tendency to think in terms of ‘us vs. them.’
I need to be set free from my exhausted callousness — to have my empathy for those who suffer most from the societal impact of this time so deepened that I would better use my voice to call for a different way in behalf of health care workers, those in education at all levels, parents who are making hard decisions every day, those on the front lines in a host of ways who are at risk.
Oh, I do need to be set free from fear.
And on and on…
So that in my ‘freedom,’ I might be a facilitator of freedom for others.
- And the only way I see clear to receive that gift is to hear the promise Jesus offers now as also meant for me and for you.
- And in hearing it, to listen to it.
- And in listening to it, to believe it.
- And in believing it, to live into it in deeper and truer ways every day.
Because the heart of God is with those who suffer: with those who are poor, the captive, those who are blind, and the oppressed.
And while that suffering differs greatly in terms of content and degree, no one is exempt.
All of us are imprisoned in different ways.
But, God intends freedom. Freedom which is enjoyed, surely, but freedom which casts aside our former blindness, if you will, so that we might see and live into the truth that my freedom, that our freedom is a gift meant to be shared and given away.
Because the world and you and I were made in this way: that all of our freedom would be bound up with one another. Always.
So that nobody would be free until everybody is free.
And today Jesus says that ‘freedom’ is already here.
- So I wonder with you now, how might you and I be a part of receiving this freedom, accessing it, and then literally setting others free? What might that mean for you and for those among whom you serve?
- I offer examples above of the myriad of things from which I need to be set free. What might you add?
- I explore the pandemic as an example of something that shows that our freedom is tied to one another’s. I know there are hundreds, thousands of others. While I believe this is the challenge of our time and intrinsic to it are so many others related to race and poverty and inequity, there might be another direction to consider now. Where might you go instead?