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Friday, March 8, 2013

Good News?

I remember this one time I was completely confused about Jesus' words in Matthew 11:1-6.

So, John the Baptist heard what Jesus was doing, and he sent some messengers to Jesus to clarify if Jesus is indeed the messiah they were looking for.

Image source.

Jesus responds by not really answering the question. "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me." In other words, look at what I'm doing and decide for yourself.

So a few years ago, I was at a bible study group, reading this passage. "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor." We noticed that one of these things is not like the others, and someone asked what it means that "the good news is preached to the poor." What is "good news for the poor"?

What is "good news for the poor"?

And there I was, completely baffled at how Christianity could be described as "good news for the poor."

Wow.

I'm not sure what exactly Jesus was preaching at that point in his ministry, but as I understood it, the message of Christianity, the gospel, went like this: "Even though you are a sinner, Jesus' death and resurrection make it possible to be freed from sin and reconciled to God."

Amen! But how is that "good news for the poor"? Like, how does that help? Okay, yay, you can know God, but... they're still poor. For all the other things that Jesus listed- "the blind receive sight", etc- the action directly addressed the obvious need of the group in question. But what does the gospel have anything to do with being poor? Everyone needs the gospel, right? Equally, right? We all sin, so it means the same thing to all of us, right?

How can Christianity be "good news for the poor"?

And oh, wow, how much of the gospel I was missing.

Because understanding the gospel and the message of Christianity as ONLY about an individual's sin and the break in their relationship with God as a result of that sin, and a restoration which leads that individual closer to God, and NOTHING MORE... this is so abstract, over-spiritualized, individualized, Americanized. The gospel is so much more.

Because that sin, that brokenness that separates an individual from God, it goes so much farther than that. I see it on a global scale, in the form of war, human trafficking, corrupt governments. (For the feminists out there: In the form of patriarchy, rape culture, institutionialized racism.) On a smaller scale: divorce, abuse, hatred between people. And so many more examples. All the way down to my own heart, the ways I act selfishly, the ways I judge people, the ways I try to protect myself without caring at all about others.

The world is broken. The world is not fair. People mistreat other people, and yet we have this intuitive sense that this isn't the way it should be.

And don't the poor know that better than anyone else? They bear the weight of the exploitation in the world, while the powerful take advantage of them and suffer few consequences.

But God wasn't willing to let it stay that way.

God cares. God cares so much. So much that he became human and lived among us and experienced all the brokenness and injustice in the world. Born into poverty, a friend to the outcasts, he lived with us and felt our pain, to the point of (spoiler warning!) torture and execution.

But during his life, he preached the message of a new kingdom, an upside-down kingdom, where "the first will be last and the last will be first" and "the greatest among you will be your servant." He gave us a vision of a world where people love and serve each other rather than fighting for status. And he that's exactly the way he lived too. He went to those who were considered "unclean" and "sinners" and rejected by society, and he valued them as human beings and brought healing, and stood up against the powerful people who wanted to keep everyone in their place. He set the ultimate example of humility- God becoming a human, God becoming a servant, God becoming a victim of unjust crucifixion.

So he died. But that's not the end. Even death could not stop him. Jesus Christ has risen to life- can I get an amen?! He is more powerful than all the forces of evil in this entire world. And he lives!

And even now, his Spirit lives in those who follow him, compelling them to give and serve and love and sacrifice. To change the world, to bring justice, to let the ends of the earth know about the freedom and healing possible through Jesus Christ.

Lay down your life for this God! For the God who left behind his power and chose to share our humanity and our pain. For the God whose love is greater than anything we can describe. For the God whose power is changing the world. Oh, lay down your life for this God! Leave everything and follow him! Proclaim his power and his love, especially for "the least of these", for those typically marginalized. Proclaim freedom in Christ- first the freedom from one's own sin, then the possibility of a life-giving connection to God, then the freedom from the chains of oppression in this world.

Come with Jesus and change the world, starting with your own life and your own relationships. No longer will you fight to keep yourself above others; instead, live a life of radical sacrifice as Jesus transforms your heart so you can feel even a fraction of the love God has for humanity. God loves the world, God loves the world so much that he became human and lived and died on this earth. And God loves you, whoever you are, and I pray that you believe that.

Jesus Christ, God in human form, who came to reconcile the world to God, to set the prisoners free and bring justice for everyone. And if that's not good news for the poor, I don't know what is.

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This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: The Scary Part (Matthew 10:16-42)

Next post: What was up with John the Baptist? (Matthew 11:1-19)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.

4 comments:

  1. I thought the good news was all that sermon on the mount stuff. You know, the meek will inherit the earth and the poor will have tea and crumpets. How can Jesus be telling people that their sins have been forgiven when it hasn't happened yet? and the whole garden of gethsemane thing has always made me think that Jesus was worried that it wouldn't happen... that when the cross got planted he might break down and mutter "eff this noise" and whistle up a squadron of angels to get him off of there. Not to mention that the locals were hoping for something a little more concrete than to be redeemed from their sins. They wanted someone to redeem them from the Romans!

    As for the news of the gospel, your whole point that it was good for the poor is lost on me. The rain has continued to pour down equally hard on the just and the unjust, with the poor getting a torrent. Do I really need to tell you how war, government corruption, and the whole list kept right on coming after the redemption? The only difference was that Jesus provided a shiny new name under which it would be done, and a new crew of fanatics to lay down their lives doing it. Thanks a heap, Jesus.

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  2. Christianity has definitely been used as a tool to oppress those who are already oppressed, but I believe that's the opposite of what it was intended to be.

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  3. Amen, amen!

    Over at Experimental Theology, Richard Beck wrote a piece on the same passage ("Freedom," I think) that came to basically the same conclusion.

    It's game-changing, to realize that Jesus Christ considered proclaiming the gospel to the poor to be on par with raising the dead. Awesome in its implications, too.

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