When I last lived in Chicago,
I lived in Andersonville
but taught on the Southwest side.
Every morning I drove
the entire length of
Lake Shore Drive to the Eisenhower,
got off at Cicero,
driving past Midway airport
to get to school.
No matter what,
this was at least a 45-minute drive.
Then, I’d reverse that
in the afternoon
and, no matter what,
this was always at least an hour.
And if there was an accident
or a Cubs game?
Forget about it. Nightmare.
I’m a pretty calm person,
but my blood pressure
spiked every day during the commute:
the person in front of me
was going too slow;
the person behind me
was going too fast.
Talking about traffic
was a favorite topic
as we strategized
about the best time to leave,
the best routes to take.
And I’ll never forget
my friend Jon
talking one day
about his drive home the night before.
The Kennedy was gridlocked,
people inching along
towards a patch of construction,
some people committing
the heinous crime of speeding
right up to where the lane is blocked,
of all the rule-following drivers
who had merged early on,
expecting to be let in at the last minute.
Jon said, “I didn’t let
a single nice car in;
I blocked all the
BMWs and Mercedes,
but then a beaten up jalopy
tried to merge, and I waved them right in;
you know, just practicing
the preferential option for the poor.”
Now, this is a joke
only Christian nerds can love,
but I loved it and him
for turning even a traffic jam
into the opportunity for the Gospel.
As many of you know,
the “preferential option for the poor”
is a term made famous by liberation theology,
as priest and theologian Gustavo Gutierrez says,
“The poor are God’s first love”
and, so, people of faith are called
to put the needs
of the poor and the vulnerable first.
This idea permeates Scripture.
Exodus warns us
Never to oppress the poor or vulnerable,
for God hears their cry (22:20-26).
Isaiah describes right worship
as working for justice
and caring for the poor and the oppressed (58:5-7).
And the Gospels
tell us the poor are blessed,
that we will be judged
by how we treat the hungry,
the poor, the imprisoned, and the sick.
Now, it isn’t lost on me
that I am not one of the poor,
yet I have always found
great comfort in God’s
preferential option for the poor.
I still use Jon’s litmus test
when stuck in traffic jams
and, I hope, elsewhere in my life.
For this notion that God sees
even the poorest, the outcast,
those who society deems
unimportant and powerless
means that God sees ALL of us,
no one is beneath God’s notice.
And today Jesus declares this.
Just returned from
the wilderness and his conquest
of Satan and his temptations,
Jesus, filled by the spirit,
begins his ministry in Galilee,
traveling to synagogues and preaching.
When he gets to his home town of Nazareth,
he reads this portion from Isaiah:
“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.”
These well-known words
would have been
woven into the hearts and minds
of all listening that day.
These words of hope
were just what people needed to hear.
For who among us doesn’t need
this Good News?
Then Jesus sits down as if to teach,
but he just announces:
“Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
In other words,
HE is the sermon,
HE is the anointed, the Messiah.
And no one seems surprised;
In fact, Luke records that all spoke well
of him and were amazed.
The people love this scripture,
but they imagine it’s only for them,
that the Good News means
liberation for Israel
and punishment for their enemies.
But right after this
two stories of how
God blessed Gentiles:
the prophet Elijah saving
a widow and her son
then the prophet Elisha
curing Naaman of leprosy.
When Jesus aligns himself
with the prophets
who had blessings for ALL people,
those listening in the synagogue
are filled with rage,
turn on Jesus,
and try to run him
off the edge of a cliff.
It turns out that
the preferential option for the poor
doesn’t sound as comforting
if it’s for ALL,
those who don’t look like us,
those we consider enemies.
The people that day wanted Good News,
but they only wanted it for themselves.
But what Jesus said when
he read the scroll from Isaiah
is that if the Good News
is not Good for the poor,
it’s not Good News.
If it’s not good for the captives,
the blind, the oppressed,
then it’s not Good News.
If the Good News
is not Good for ALL,
then it’s not Good.
What Jesus was saying was,
“When I say I ‘bring good news to the poor’
I mean Gentile lives matter,”
and the Jews were furious
because they thought
the Good News was just for them.
“When I say I have been sent
‘to proclaim release to the captives,’
I mean Black Lives Matter,”
and we who are white worry that doesn’t include us.
What Jesus was saying was,
“I’ve been sent to proclaim
‘recovery of sight to the blind,’”
and that means
those who STILL
haven’t gotten vaccinated,
and those of us who are progressive wonder
if we even want that good news.
When Jesus says,
“I bring good news to the oppressed,
so trans lives matter,”
and we who are cis gender
wonder, why not us first?
When Jesus says,
“‘I bring good news to the poor . . .
and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor’
so poor lives matter, unemployed lives matter,
addicted lives matter, refugee lives matter,
homeless lives matter!”
and we who are comfortable,
who are safe at home,
worry that our lives just might need to change.
The Good News is for ALL,
for each one of us,
for each of us as we are,
wherever we are.
It is for the rich,
it is for those in power,
it is for each one of us sitting here,
but the Good News
can never be the Good News
if it’s not also, especially,
for the poor, the captives,
the blind, and the oppressed,
the least and the lost,
the grieving, those who’ve given up . . .
THAT is what Jesus is preaching
when he reads from the Prophet Isaiah. . . .
But here’s something else you should know.
In reading this passage,
Jesus leaves out two lines:
“proclaiming the day
of vengeance of our God”
and being sent to “bind up the brokenhearted.”
And I don’t think that was a mistake.
I think Jesus took Good News
and made it better news
because he has removed
any notion of vengeance from God.
There is nothing
BUT Good News,
unlimited, unmerited grace
for each and every one of us.
There will be NO vengeance,
not for us, not for our enemies.
But Jesus also omits the line
where the prophet says he was sent
“to bind up the brokenhearted,”
and I think that’s because
that part of the job is for us.
Jesus proclaims the Good News of God,
and then he leaves the job
of binding up the brokenhearted
to each and every one of us.
To use whatever power we have
to ensure that no one is left out.
To share what we have
with those who need it.
To befriend the one
To offer Good News
to those in desperate need of it.
Sometimes we’re binding up the broken hearted;
other times it’s our broken hearts
getting tended to.
So, Beloved, hear the Good News . . .
for you, for us, for ALL.
While Gustavo Gutierrez
did say, “the poor are God’s first love,”
he followed that by saying
this “is an expression
of God’s love for all of us.”
In other words,
Because God loves those on the margins, on the bottom,
then we’re ALL included.
God’s ways are the opposite of trickle-down economics!
Beloved, these days if feels like
we’re always stuck on the Kennedy,
bumper to bumper,
construction as far as the eye can see,
6 pm on a Friday,
trying to merge before we miss our exit.
But in God’s grace,
a space opens,
and we slide right in.