“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” (Luke 4:18-19)
This was the Scripture that Jesus read in the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth, asserting that the Scripture was being fulfilled through himself, and giving an early indication as to how he saw his ministry. But how did Jesus fulfill this prophecy of good news to the poor? And what does that mean for today?
Last month we were in Tanzania’s largest city, Dar es Salaam, which caused me to ponder these questions. What is the good news for the poor of today?
What is the good news for the Bajaj driver, who works long hours to earn more than the $60 a month he pays to rent his vehicle, so he can make ends meet? What about the porter working in an electronics store, earning $50 a month carrying equipment around? What is the good news for the young men at the bus terminal, making small change packing bags into buses and selling phone credit?
When Jesus talks about good news for the poor, the release of captives and the oppressed being set free, should we read that as being metaphorical language speaking only of the time when Jesus returns to put everything right, or is he also talking about these visions becoming reality in a kingdom that is in the here and now?
I was left contemplating how I would share the good news about Jesus with the people I met in Dar es Salaam, and even what that good news is in the first place. Is it good news that the hard slog of grinding out a living with little education and very limited healthcare is only for a short time, and that at some point in the future everything will be made right? I think that is part of it, but what about right now?
Is the good news that if you follow Jesus you can work your way out of poverty, get a better paid job and then help your children to have a better education and a better chance to build a more comfortable life for themselves? Is it that if you go to the right churches and make the right connections with wealthier believers that you can get a helping hand out of poverty?
I think that sometimes the church can communicate the message that “your material situation in terms of wealth and poverty really doesn’t matter, it’s how you relate to God that is important”. This is easy to say for those of us who are wealthy, but I’m not sure it reflects reality for those who are poor, or the message that Jesus was bringing to them.
I think I finished the trip less sure as to what the good news is that Jesus talks about, and more aware of my need to learn from those who are the poor, to whom Jesus is announcing his good news.