Justice

[Jesus said],

“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.”

-Luke 4:18-19
 
Those are the first public words of Jesus’ ministry recorded in Luke’s gospel. The words are quoted from the prophet Isaiah.  They form a sort of mission statement. They tell us and all who read them that Jesus has a purpose, and he knows exactly what it is. He is anointed by the Holy Spirit (remember that dove at his baptism) specifically to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. All of his ministry throughout the rest of the gospel of Luke fits into these few sentences.
 
And the hometown folks of Nazareth try to throw him off a cliff because of it.
 
I’m not kidding. Grab your Bible or open up a web browser and search for Luke 4. Almost immediately, the people listening turn from speaking well of him to dragging him out of town, to the top of a nearby cliff, intending to throw him down the rocky precipice. Even though these are the people who watched Jesus grow up, even though it is the Sabbath and dragging anybody to the top of a cliff counts as work, even though they have been sitting in worship listening to God’s word, the people of Nazareth set out to reject Jesus as thoroughly as possible.
 
I am reminded of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday was observed on Monday. Though he is now recognized as a necessary, faithful, and prophetic voice for justice, in his lifetime he was viewed with suspicion and hostility. In 1966, as his advocacy for racial and economic justice and his bold critique of America’s failure to live up to its values drew more attention, he had a 63% disapproval rating according to Gallup polls. He’s much more popular now dead than he ever was alive. The same could be said of Jesus.
 
Just like the people of Nazareth were used to hearing the prophetic words of Isaiah as history addressed to somebody else, many of us have gotten familiar with MLK’s words as addressed to other people. Like many of you, I’ve seen the movie Selma, read the “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” and watched the “I Have a Dream” speech. These words and events are presented as history, which of course they are. They are also timeless and prophetic: “hate cannot drive out hate… injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere… any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” Ring a bell?
 
It’s always been easier to see injustice in the far away and long ago than in the here and now. As people of faith longing for justice, whom MLK called “people of good will,” it’s our responsibility to understand and recognize injustice. We know that there are people in our own communities, among the people with whom we work and worship and learn and play, who are longing to hear good news, to be set free from their burdens, to be released from their bonds. 
 
That’s why Jesus came. For good news to the poor, for release from captivity, for recovery of sight, for freedom from oppression, for God’s favor to transform every life weight down by sin and injustice. People like MLK and like you and me are called by the same Holy Spirit, anointed in our baptisms to “work for justice and peace in all the world.” It’s not easy or popular, but it is our calling.
 

Holy Spirit, let me be faithful to your call to work for justice and peace in all the places and people I influence. Amen.