If it isn’t Good News for the Poor, it isn’t Good News

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

during lunch,

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, 

people merging, 

some people committing 

the heinous crime of speeding 

right up to where the lane is blocked,

skipping ahead 

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,

teaching that, 

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

Jesus tells 

two stories of how 

God blessed Gentiles:

the prophet Elijah saving

a widow and her son

from starvation,

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. 

Jesus says, 

“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

others ignore.

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.