October 18, 2018

Sundays in Easter: The Very Good Gospel (6)

Reaching for the Sky. Photo by David Cornwell

When Jesus talked about witness, he referred to our being his witnesses. We are to be his evidence as we show the world that the Kingdom of God has come.

• Lisa Sharon Harper

• • •

On Sundays in Easter, we are hearing from Lisa Sharon Harper about The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right. Her book is about the fullness of the good news that Jesus lived, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven to give us. Harper tells us that God’s good news is about shalom, the opposite of our often “thin” understanding of the gospel.

Today and next week, we will skip ahead to the last couple of chapters in The Very Good Gospel to wrap up this series.

Chapter 11 reminds us as Christ-followers that we are called to witness to the shalom that God is bringing into the world through Jesus. But this witness is not just a verbal announcement that Jesus is King. It also involves our participation in “doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8). Furthermore, witnessing is not simply an individual telling his or her story of encountering Jesus. It is the calling to form new communities that will embody and promote shalom in the world.

In Luke 4, Jesus set forth his own mission statement:

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

‘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 4:16-19)

Jesus described his own mission in terms of the instructions that Israel received in the Torah to practice Jubilee, a year they were to set aside to restore their communities to a kind of “default” setting of justice and equality.

While Mark’s account reveals Jesus’s identity, Luke’s account clarifies Jesus’s vocation. What will the King’s rule look like? We saw in the previous chapter that Jesus’s first sermon in Luke 4 was a declaration of opposition to the dominion of men. In his first sermon, Jesus’s vocation is clarified. It is to lift oppression and bring good news to the poor. The vocation of Jesus is to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, a direct reference to the year of jubilee.

As we discussed earlier, the year of jubilee was one of the pillars of God’s governance of Israel. Every fifty years, all debts were to be forgiven, all slaves were to be set free, and all land was to be returned to its original deed holder.

In God’s economy, no family would live in poverty in perpetuity. There would always be an economic reset button. We don’t know if Israel ever practiced jubilee, but we do know that Jesus proclaimed it. Jesus’s interaction with the tax collector Zacchaeus led that officer of the state to enact his own form of jubilee. In Luke 4, Jesus described his vocation. It is, therefore, also the vocation of all his followers.

What does it mean, then, to be a witness? It is not enough for followers to testify with their mouth, “Lord, Lord.” We must do “the will of my Father in heaven,” Jesus said in Matthew 7, in order to be evidence of the presence of the Kingdom. We must bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. We must let the oppressed go free and proclaim the year of jubilee. This is what it takes to be evidence of the presence of God’s reign on earth.

What would the church look like if we were to take this calling seriously? — the calling to practice and advocate for jubilee throughout the earth, that all might live in shalom?

Comments

  1. senecagriggs says:

    The Year of Jubilee – God’s plan to give His people an ever lasting identity [ you were a part of a tribe that had land ] and your fathers and grandfathers were not permitted to sell your heritage. They could lease it but never sell it and at the end of the 50 years, members of the tribe were expected to move back home thereby solidifying their identity.
    Everybody knew who they were and they knew where they fit in. You might, thru circumstances, be an orphan but you were never without roots and a family.
    _____

    As others have noted; who knows if the rules for the year of Jubilee were ever followed but the groundwork was laid for a sense of permanence, stability and identity. It was God’s plan for the psychological health and stability of His people.

  2. Ronald Avra says:

    Ms. Harper has done some solid work. Grateful for her insights.

  3. Robert F says:

    What would the church look like if we were to take this calling seriously? — the calling to practice and advocate for jubilee throughout the earth, that all might live in shalom?

    No church community I’ve ever been member of has ever taken this calling with the seriousness that Harper says it demands. Oh, it’s not that these communities haven’t done good deeds in the name of Jesus, helping the needy, feeding the hungry; they have. But they have all, without exception, been hampered by their own internal problems, things like factionalism, organizational politics or attrition of membership, to give the jubilee project the kind of energy it requires to be realized in a significantly visible and public way. In addition, they have all without exception been too firmly invested in the American middle-class project of self-securing pursuit of personal affluence, the American Dream, to put themselves totally into jubilee or embodying shalom.

    I can say nothing more for myself. Most of the time I’m too busy trying to get along with my fellow parishoners, many of them people I would have nothing to do with if we were not members of a church together, or struggling with my own sin and personal needs, to be a change-agent toward living out, and getting my church community to live out, jubilee or shalom. From week to week I’m not even sure if I will be able to hang in on my regular everyday life, or how long I will remain a member of this particular church community, given the interpersonal problems that can explode into crisis in any given moment. Everything is so touch-and-go, where jubilee and shalom seem to require solidness.

    • Well said, Robert. It seems hopeless. The American middle class project is the air I have breathed my whole life. It is hard to imagine another atmosphere. If some church or Christian community managed to live this way, it would probably be persecuted off the map. Please forgive my negativity, that’s just where I am right now. I appreciate your comment.

    • Christiane says:

      “Everything is so touch-and-go, where jubilee and shalom seem to require solidness.”

      good words

      can we become the change we want to see happen? Does life not lead us to develop more in that direction and go forward towards a personal integrity where we pull ourselves together enough to let go of shallowness and seek something within ourselves that is real and meaningful and needing to be ‘given back’ to this world of ours?

      the Christian life needs to go in the direction of developing that kind of personal integrity, but its painful and much that is ‘glitter’ and ‘amusement’ and ‘acceptance’ must be let go for us to come into focus as an integral person with something to give that is healing and caring . . . . it’s a journey worth taking