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Written by Jim Jordal   
Saturday, 04 February 2012

JESUS CAME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR

By Jim Jordal

The book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. He opened the book, and found the place where it was written, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, Because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor…

Luke 4:17-18a, WEB

A friend of mine labeled the first sermon of Jesus recorded in Luke 4:16-21 as the mission statement of Jesus, since it meets many of the criteria for good mission statements. If you accept this definition of what Jesus said, then you may understand that it included, as mission statements do, six "announcements of action" explaining what he was about and what he would accomplish. The first was his intent to "preach the gospel to the poor."

Over the next few weeks (possibly with some interruptions as news events develop) we will develop this mission statement of Jesus. I’m writing this because I’m concerned about the failure of most American churches to emphasize the most prominent teachings of Jesus on economic and social justice. It seems we too often trivialize the intent of Jesus, which clearly was to offer Divine deliverance to oppressed, blind, miserable, hopeless and enslaved people crushed by worldly domination systems—then and now.

Jesus did not take up arms against oppression, nor did he advocate overthrow of the government. But he was a true revolutionary in that he threatened, as had the prophets before him, the values and stability of existing political, religious, social and economic systems that had blinded and enslaved the people. Jesus was usually unassuming and peaceful as he moved among the common people who loved and respected him. But not so the powerful custodians of order and tradition. They knew he spoke of their oppressive practices in many parables and teachings, and they were angry enough to seek and finally achieve his death. The common people loved him, but the power structure feared and hated his message and his doings.

The first action statement "preach the good news to the poor" includes three terms—preach, gospel, poor---that need explanation.

According to the dictionary, preaching means to advocate or inculcate Divine moral truth and right conduct. In the Christian sense it means to offer hearers the counsel and very heart of God’s will for human beings and their organizing and controlling systems. Preaching includes prophetic utterances expressing through Holy Spirit guidance the express purposes of God and the expected outcomes—both good and bad—of human response to God’s will. Jesus did all of this as he ministered to the people.

The biblical term "gospel" means literally the good news of salvation and deliverance from all forms of human oppression through God’s grace promised by the prophets and guaranteed by the sacrifice of Christ at Calvary. The message of good news includes much more than personal salvation, although you would never know it listening to most preachers. Salvation in the personal sense is the starting point from which all other forms of deliverance arise. Salvation is the beginning, not the end of God’s will for human beings.

Jesus also taught this.

The term "poor" refers to those unfortunates crouching and cringing in their absolute degradation before oppressive domination systems of the present world order—then and now. They are distressed in every way because they occupy the lowest rungs of human society, being shunned and ostracized by all forms of "good" society, including religious institutions. If you’ve ever been really poor, or if you empathize sufficiently with today’s poor to get on the level where they actually exist, you’ll know, as one despairing child said to her mother, "Mama, it’s very expensive to be poor." This was after the child experienced the mother’s distress at having to pay more for credit, housing, groceries, gasoline, child care and anything else you might need if you live in the poorer sections of town. Go down to your local ghetto and see if this isn’t true.

Putting these three fragments together into the phrase, "I [Jesus] came to preach the gospel to the poor," we have Jesus announcing to the assembled synagogue authorities that his earthly mission was to preach, teach, advocate and model the good news of salvation and deliverance from human oppression as first announced in the Jubilee provisions (Lev. 25, Deut. 15) of Scripture. His mission, as he said on many occasions, was to the hopeless, abject human wreckage living on the fringes of society, having no hope of receiving anything better in this life.