Luke 4:16-30 & Isaiah 61:1-2a
Many organizations, including churches, are big on mission statements. We are told that we must clarify our goals and objectives under a simple, concise (and memorable) statement so that we won’t lose our focus. Here are several short church mission statements I found on the internet: “Making New; Making Great”; “Save, Equip, Send”; “Know Jesus and Make Jesus Known”; “Leading People to experience a God-First Life”; “We exist to make Heaven more crowded”. For all practical purposes, I’m not entirely sure what some of these really mean or how to flesh them out though some are kind of catchy. It’s almost as if the mission statement is avoiding the real reasons for which the church’s existence.
When Jesus gives his mission statement, it is in his first recorded sermon after his baptism (informal ordination) and he gives it in his hometown synagogue. He is not nearly as clever or original as some I found. In, fact he mostly quotes from Isaiah, but he certainly does not beat around the bush. And after he gives his statement and makes a few comments, it does not seem to go too well. The good “church” people are rather upset and even try to kill him. No feel-good mission statement here. “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.” Jesus leaves out a part of a verse in Isaiah, “[to proclaim] the day of vengeance of our God”, that follows talk of the “Lord’s favor”.
The mission that Jesus invites his fellow Nazarenes to is a mission that they are not only reluctant about but also downright hostile towards. (Read Jesus’ full comments in Luke.) Jesus was telling them that while they might be God’s chosen, it is those others whose God’s favor is on- the ones who the Nazarenes see as outsiders because they are gentiles and poor and oppressed. These non-Jewish outsiders live just beyond the Nazarenes’ front porches and were considered mostly worthy of God’s vengeance (or at least indifference). But that is not Jesus’ point of view.
It’s not about some inside club with privilege and comfort having nice thoughts and doing occasional charitable actions towards the outsider. Jesus is always drawing the circle larger until outsiders and insiders are together and no one is beyond the pale. The call is to love and serve and do justice. The strange discovery is that when the circle is enlarged and everyone is inside, the original insiders find out that they are just as much captive, blind and oppressed and in need of favor as those outsiders. When our lives and churches align with God’s mission we find ourselves in the company of those we tried to keep out but whom we now discover we cannot live without.
How large do we draw the circle in our faith communities? Are there insiders and outsiders? What is our oppression, blindness and chains?