Liberation for the Oppressed

blue skies

Herb Montgomery | January 21, 2022


There are so many contemporary parallels to draw between the way Luke’s gospel characterizes the life and mission of Jesus and the justice needs present in our world today. Since his era, oppression, domination and subjugation have only evolved. What does it mean for Jesus followers to live lives characterized by liberation for the oppressed, equity for the disenfranchised, inclusion of the marginalized, and diverse egalitarianism rather than by disparities of property, power, and privilege?”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 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.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:14-21)

In Luke’s version of the Jesus story, Jesus’ ministry begins in and around Galilee. All of us today who feel passionately about the inclusion of those being marginalized or who are concerned with how communities and larger societies experience change can learn from this story.

Galilee was a marginalized region in a marginalized territory. The Jewish people were also a marginalized community within the Roman empire. With the Temple-state being centered in Judea, in Jerusalem, and seated in the temple there, Galilee’s more Hellenized Jewish communities were doubly marginalized.

The canonical gospel authors all locate Jesus primary ministry in that region. This choice not only reveals a passion for those being marginalized in any system, but also points us to how change happens. Change happens from the grassroots or bottom up and from the margins or edges of our societies inward. Change doesn’t usually come from the elite, powerful, or privileged who benefit from how society is structured now. Their experience is vastly different from those on the edges of society. Change usally comes from those for whom the present system is not working.

In this week’s narrative, the author of Luke conflates two passages from the Hebrew scriptures: one from Isaiah 61 and the other from Isaiah 58.

Isaiah 61:1-2

  The spirit of the Most High GOD is upon me,

because the Most High has anointed me;

he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,

to bind up the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and release to the prisoners;

  to proclaim the year of the Most High’s favor,

and the day of vengeance of our God;

to comfort all who mourn;

Isaiah 58:6

Is not this the fast that I choose:

to loose the bonds of injustice,

to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,

and to break every yoke?

Of all the passages in the Hebrew scriptures that the author of Luke could have chosen to summarize or characterize Jesus life and mission, these two passages are saturated with the theme of liberation for the oppressed. Notice the differences between the story here in Luke and Mark’s version. What does Luke adding to Mark’s telling?

He [Jesus] left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching. (Mark 6:1-6, cf Luke 4:20-30)

Luke adds to Mark’s version details of the themes of Jesus’ life and work. The reign of God as defined by this Jewish prophet of the poor would be just that: good news for the poor. It would announce liberation for the captives, the imprisoned, including slaves. It would proclaim sight to prisoners with prison blindness (Prison blindness was what was referred to at the time as being in a Roman cell/hole in the ground that was so dark one could not see what was around them.) It would announce liberation for the oppressed and proclaim the year of the Most High’s favor—language used to announce the year of jubilee when slaves were liberated and all debts were wiped out.

These verses make me reflect on the prison industrial complex in our society. Jesus proclaimed release for the slaves yet White Christians claimed to worship Jesus all through the years slavery remains a brutal cornerstone of the U.S. economy to this day. I also think of discussions about wiping out the heavy burden of student debt. Globally, national debt has a new form of colonization’s control and domination. There are so many contemporary parallels to draw between the way Luke’s gospel characterizes the life and mission of Jesus and the justice needs present in our world today. Since his era, oppression, domination and subjugation have only evolved.

What does it mean for Jesus followers to live lives characterized by liberation for the oppressed, equity for the disenfranchised, inclusion of the marginalized, and diverse egalitarianism rather than by disparities of property, power, and privilege? There are so many of us today who benefit from the violence of our present system. Are we allowing passages like this one in Luke to confront us?

Luke’s story continues with an account that foreshadows the early Jesus movement’s expansion in the book of Acts. The movement went through growing pains as it began to include those who had historically been excluded: Gentiles, eunuchs, women, and others. Their experience can teach us too: in our time, for whom is the Spirit making “no distinction between us and them” (see Acts 11:12; 15:9)?

There’s one more thing to note this week. The author of Luke uses an edited version of the Isaiah 61 passage that omits the phrase “the day of vengeance of our God.” Why?

There is a kind of liberation that dehumanizes oppressors while seeking to set the oppressed free. It doesn’t replace a tiered society with a shared table; it replaces the current system with a differently tiered society. Those once subjugated are now at the top, and those who were once the oppressors become oppressed. Communities under this kind of liberation are simply flipped. They aren’t transformed, they’re just rearranged. “God’s favor” for some is simultaneously “the day of God’s vengeance” for others.

Luke doesn’t promote that dualistic approach to liberation. Jesus’ followers rightly perceived that Jesus was about a different kind of liberation. At Jesus’ shared table, the powerful would be pulled down from their thrones, and the oppressed would be lifted up and liberated, but liberation and equality for some would include an invitation to oppressors to experience radical personal change as the system itself changed. Jesus’ liberation was a year of the Most High’s favor for all, and that favor looked different for people in different social locations and in the different areas of their lives.

Very rarely can people be defined in neat categories. We are all oppressed and oppressor simultaneously depending on which parts of our identities and positions in the present system we are contemplating. Our identities are complex and so our privileges and patterns of disenfranchisement are therefore intersectional and complex, as well.

What this means for me is that I need to embrace the kind of world that would be safe, compassionate, just home for everyone, and I need to rejoice in the changes that will transform me so that I want that world. I hope that we can choose a different world and work for it here, now. Change comes from the Galilean regions of our lives. We can each choose to be confronted, challenged, and changed in those areas where we might otherwise oppose a more justly shared world, and in those areas where we have a deep need for that world.

My choice for 2022 is, as a Jesus follower, to continue growing, continue changing myself, and to continue being committed to working for social change, as well.

How are you choosing in 2022?

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. What personal changes are you leaning into this new year? Discuss with your group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

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https://renewedheartministries.com/Contact-forms?form=EmailSignUp

Following Jesus in the Time of Covid

mask with heart cut out

Herb Montgomery | January 14, 2022


Instead of arguing whether we should mandate vaccinations for the sake of the common good and for those who are vulnerable among us, as Jesus followers we already have a mandate in place: love your neighbor as yourself. This mandate requires us to act not only for our own best interests but also for the best interests of others.”


Our reading this week is from the gospel of John:

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11)

This story has received a lot of attention from Christians over the centuries. Whatever we take from this story, we must remember that it only appears in the last canonical gospel to be written and it was written when the Christian movement was becoming deeply anti-Jewish and trying to distance itself from Judaism in the eyes of the Roman Empire. Christians have used this story to contrast the jars used for “Jewish rites of purification” with Jesus’ “best wine” as if to say that Jesus’ teachings, though deeply Jewish, were at the same time superior to other Jewish wisdom and knowledge. We don’t have to disparage any other religion, especially not Judaism, to value the Jesus story. Antisemitic interpretations have historically been at the root of much of the harm Christians have committed against Jewish people. We can and must do better.

This story has also been at the center of teetotaler debates: there are arguments to this day about whether the wine Jesus made in this story was grape juice or alcoholic. These debates are silly to me.

The original audience would have understood that this story established Jesus as a great miracle worker. What can we take away from this story today?

One thing I like about this story is that only a few people were in the know about this miracle: Jesus, Mary, the servants, and the disciples. The wealthy wedding party hosts were oblivious to what Jesus was up to, and this speaks to me of the reality that not everyone experiences life the same way.

Recently, Senator Harry Reid died. Reid grew up in a family in Nevada that fought daily to survive deep poverty, and he carried his experiences with classism into his politics, adult life, and career. So few Congresspeople today have any experience with poverty in the United States and it shows in the decision they make in Congress.

But our story this week gives a nod to the lower social classes for whom the gospel of John was written. Jesus came to be for them. In other gospels, Jesus explains that the reign of God was God’s just future for the poor, outcast, marginalized, and excluded (see Luke 6:22-24, cf. Matthew 5).

And also in this story, Jesus’ mother, Mary, is centered. A woman in that society is the one really responsible for this miracle from the reluctant Jesus. Mary persuaded Jesus to do what John’s gospel treats as Jesus’ inaugural miracle. With Mary’s trust in Jesus, this version of the Jesus story really begins.

Mary’s words to the servants are at the heart of her role in this narrative: “Do whatever he tells you.” I imagine the original audience would have heard this clearly. For us today, following Jesus is much less about the creeds and much more about the ethics we choose to live our lives by. Are we endeavoring to do what Jesus told us? Are we, too, expending our energy to make our world a safer, more compassionate, just home for those our present system makes poor, outcast, marginalized or excluded?

Consider these ancient words found in the epistle of James:

“What good is it, my siblings, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a person is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do nothing to supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. (James 2:14-18, italics added for emphasis.)

We will find this emphasis more subtly spoken later in John’s gospel:

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

What designates one as a follower of Jesus is not the creeds we mentally assent to, but the kind of life we choose to live, the kind of values we seek to embody, the kind of ethics we endeavor to practice.

What we believe does translate into actions, but the emphasis in these teachings is always on which actions our beliefs give birth to.

Christianity’s sacred texts repeat this principle of “doing” and having our doing being defined by love. One of my favorite passages is in Romans 13:10:

“Love does no harm to one’s neighbor.”

This principle is one of the greatest areas of misunderstanding today. Our actions can and do protect us. But they also have implications for others. Like others living lives of compassion, Jesus followers should be choosing a course of action that takes into account the potential for harming others. This is love. Love takes yourself into account, yes, and it also takes into account the wellbeing and safety of those around you.

What does this mean for a Jesus follower in a global pandemic?

It means, if you can get vaccinated, get vaccinated. If you can wear a mask, wear a mask. Concern yourself with your neighbors who may be immunocompromised. At different stages of the pandemic certain communities have been more heavily impacted than others. Concern yourself with those who are particularly affected. Globally, vaccine disparity means that countries ravaged by colonialism are vulnerable to severe outbreaks.

Instead of arguing whether we should mandate vaccinations for the sake of the common good and for those who are vulnerable among us, as Jesus followers we already have a mandate in place: love your neighbor as yourself. This mandate requires us to act not only for our own best interests but also for the best interests of others.

We live in a system that is putting vulnerable people in harms way. What can we do while we are working to change that system? We can take every step to mitigate harms we may cause others. Others might take advantage of our efforts, but that is not our chief concern. Our priority needs to be doing everything we can to protect those our present system makes vulnerable.

In this week’s story, Mary says simply: “Whatever he tells you to do, do it.”

Those words have echoed from within this story over the centuries for every generation of Jesus followers. Jesus has told us to love. As this new year begins, take inventory of your life. Today, how is the Jesus of this story telling you to love?

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. How is the Jesus of this story telling you to love in 2022? Discuss with your group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week


Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

Free Sign-Up at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Contact-forms?form=EmailSignUp

Jesus’ Baptism as Social Protest

water

Herb Montgomery | January 7, 2021


“Jesus’ baptism has been understood in terms of a salvation that addresses only individuals’ personal or private sins rather than establishing systemic justice in place of systems that harm vulnerable and marginalized people. This creates problems with the text.”


Our reading this week is from Luke 3:15-17, 21-22:

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire . . . Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’”

This week, we’re beginning a new calendar year and we are also in the season after Epiphany. Jesus’ baptism in Luke compiles several passages from the Hebrew scriptures, beginning with the story of the inauguration of the ancient King David:

“I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, You are my son; today I have become your Father.” (Psalms 2:7)

This inauguration happened in the context of opposition by foreign oppressors of Israel.

“The kings of the earth set themselves,

and the rulers take counsel together,

against the LORD and his anointed.” (Psalms 2:2 cf. 2:10)

The story of Jesus’ baptism also echoed two passages from Isaiah:

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations . . . He will not grow faint or be crushed until he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his teaching. (Isaiah 42:1-4, emphasis added.)

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit [feminine] of wisdom [sophia] and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness [justice] he shall judge [deliver] the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. ”(Isaiah 42:1-4)

The one “in whom I am well pleased” was to be associated with the world of establishing justice on the earth for the marginalized and oppressed. And the one on whom the spirit of the Lord rested would deliver the poor and bring equity for the meek. In both Matthew’s sermon on the mount and Luke’s sermon on the plain, the reign of God is proclaimed as belonging to the poor, while the earth is the inheritance of the meek, those typically walked on by the powerful and privileged.

These associations set us up to understand Jesus’ baptism in a new way.

Jesus’ baptism has been understood in terms of a salvation that addresses only individuals’ personal or private sins rather than establishing systemic justice in place of systems that harm vulnerable and marginalized people. This creates problems with the text.

John’s baptism called people to repentance. But if that repentance was a rejection of private or personal sins then Jesus’ baptism becomes nonsensical because of the claim that Jesus had no private or personal sins to repent of. The Early Church Father Jerome, who lived in the 4th and 5th Century quotes from the Gospel of the Nazarenes in which Jesus initially rejects being baptized by John because he has never committed a sin.

Jesus’ exceptionalism also made his association with John and John’s baptism problematic for those Christians who no longer wanted be associated with Judaism or who wanted to communicate Jesus as superior to all including John.

To the best of our knowledge, the gospels were written down in this order: Mark, Matthew, Luke and then John. Reading them in that order, we see progressive attempts to distance Jesus from John, to portray Jesus as greater than John, and to declare that John and Johns movement  was only a precursor of Jesus and the movement based on his life and work. By the time of John’s gospel, John the Baptizer doesnt even baptize Jesus. And in Luke, if we take Lukes chronology seriously, John is already in prison by the time Jesus is baptized. This is unlike the early gospels of Matthew and Mark, where John baptizes Jesus.

As we’ve stated, John preached a baptism of repentance, and John was Jesus’ mentor. How are we to make sense of this?

Consider Luke 3:10-14:

And the crowds asked him, What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, And we, what should we do?” He said to them, Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

John’s baptism called for repentance for social, systemic sins. Repentance is a paradigm shift where you being to think about things differently, and so John’s baptism of repentance symbolized rethinking how society was structured in relation to power and privilege, who was included and benefited, and who was excluded and on whose backs the elites profited.

This brings me to this week’s point: an alternative lens for interpreting John’s baptism of Jesus.

John’s baptism invited people to denounce the present order, to cleanse the canvas so to speak for something different to be born.

Consider this commentary:

“It is a genuine act of repentance. As such it ends his participation in the structures and values of society. It concludes his involvement in the moral order into which he was born.” (H. Waetjen, The Construction of the Way into a Reordering of Power: An Inquiry in the Generic Conception of the Gospel According to Mark, quoted with permission by Ched Myers in Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Marks Gospel, p. 129)

When we read the story of Jesus’ baptism through this lens, it was about rejecting, or being cleansed of a society maintained by unjust institutions through which power is unjustly ordered.

It was a rejection of the way Rome had oppressed Jewish society and how Jewish elites had become complicit in Roman oppression of Jewish people. Jesus’ baptism meant rejecting these social constructions, especially the elitist ordering of power, privilege, and profit.

In the gospels, we read of a Jesus who made it his life work to challenge his society’s oppressive structures. It makes perfect sense that he would have initially been a disciple of Johns, been baptized into John’s critique, and then, once John was jailed, embarked on his own mission through the wilderness and into the marginalized regions of Galilee proclaiming that the just reign of God had arrived.

Jesus was the one who, like David, was called “Son” in the context of oppressive structures. He was one in whom the Divine delighted, whose work would be to establish justice in the earth. Jesus was one upon whom the Divine feminine spirit of wisdom (sophia) would rest, and who would deliver the poor and bring justice to the meek.

This makes me wonder what our baptism-like rituals today are. How do we, too, publically reject present systems of injustice? I think of marches I have participated in that were largely symbolic, calling for change at most and rejecting the present way of doing things at least. Protests often use symbolic actions to reject the present order and call for something more just.

So what difference does it make for us as Jesus followers, as we start this new year, to interpret Jesus’ baptism not as repentance for personal sins but rather as rejection of the injustices of the current system? Jesus’ baptism was a cleansing with water, a preparing the way for something better to take root and spread.

What new ways of ordering our world are our baptisms preparing us to engage?

Another world is possible.

And that world begins with our denouncing and turning away from the injustices of our time.


HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. What are some of the ways you are preparing for something new in 2022? Discuss with your group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week



Begin each day being inspired toward love, compassion, action, and justice.

Go to renewedheartministries.com and click “sign up.”

Free Sign-Up at:

https://renewedheartministries.com/Contact-forms?form=EmailSignUp