As I sit here writing this, I’m looking at a pile of books that a friend has gifted me. There’s one that catches my eye: Set my people free. Since evangelical revivals, there’s been an emphasis that the gospel is about saving you from your sins. Of course, that is an important aspect of our salvation. But, it’s only one aspect of the good news. Jesus, in proclaiming the coming of the reign of God, declared,
‘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 favour.’ (Luke 4:18-19)
Why would a message as good as this cause brother to fall out with brother or flogging or persecution? Quite simply a message like this upsets the status quo. It seems, throughout history, there always have been people who have it good and people who don’t—and often those who have it good have it good at the expense of others. We read this right from the start of the Hebrew Scriptures when Israel was in slavery to Egypt—exploited for Egypt’s gain. We think of slavery and the building of the British Empire. It seems there are always winners and losers. It was the same in Jesus’s time: the Romans and certain sections of Jewish society dominated, while others went without.
Jesus’ good news has the aim of releasing those who are considered least. Some people think that’s all about the next life: the new earth and heaven. But it’s clear in this passage—from the urgency, the mission set—that Jesus’ reign is starting immediately: we are a glimpse of God’s reign here on earth as Jesus’ followers. We are called to put into action this good news. But we are warned: when we preach the good news of God’s reign, when we act through God’s mission to release captives and set people free, we will upset people, we will upset the establishment and those in privileged positions. We still have major inequalities in the world, major exploitation that ensures some of us have easy comfortable lives—and it’s not easy to recognise that comfort and the means by which we have it. But regardless, we are called to upset the status quo, and that may mean upsetting a few people, but it is God who calls us to ‘set my people free.’