Most of the answers to this can be found in one of the more electrifying moments of Christ’s sojourn here on earth. It was fairly early on in His ministry, and He was in the town of Nazareth where He grew up. It was the Sabbath, and Jesus was in the Jewish temple and someone handed Him a scroll from which to read, and Jesus opened to a passage in Isaiah and read:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:19-21)
Jesus used a prophesy concerning Himself from the book of Isaiah to proclaim, publicly, His agenda. It’s all here, and it’s pretty straightforward. The people Jesus is most concerned about are the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. And just as the Luke account of the Beatitudes is about the physically poor, hungry, and depressed, and the Matthew account of the same is about the spiritually poor, hungry and depressed, this agenda from Isaiah is most likely about both the spiritually and physically poor, prisoners, blind, and oppressed. And you can’t help but tell — if you observe Jesus as He makes His way through the gospel narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John — that He was particularly keen on those who were physically poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. Indeed, these were the people who followed Jesus and the people He surrounded Himself with. He did not hang with the upper-crust. He did not come to spend time with kings and princes and religious leaders. His heart was bent towards those in need — those in the lower echelons of society.
This is why its’s impossible to say we love Jesus and follow Him without sharing His compassion for the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. And I’m putting myself first in line among those who need to hear this. This priority of Jesus simply cannot be ignored. Certainly we have tried to excuse ourselves from this by spiritualizing it (i.e., in our relatively wealthy churches, we are reaching out to the spiritually poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed), but that will only go so far. You can’t be partial to the spiritual component of this agenda while ignoring the physical part. That is not only hypocritical, it is totally missing the heart of God. God has always been on the side of the poor, homeless and oppressed. Throughout the Old Testament, provision was always made for these, and Jesus continued it.
This, by the way, is something we largely missed in our spiritual revolution, the Jesus Movement. Most of us didn’t hear the part about the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. We didn’t read that far in. We heard as far in as “proclaiming the good news” — getting people saved was what we were concerned about. This is what I believe the millennials are getting right about the new frontier. They are much more conscious of the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed than we were. We need to follow their lead.
Question: If the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed were priorities for Jesus, what does that mean for us?