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Sermon for 3 Epiphany, Year C

Based on Lk. 4:14-21

By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“Jesus The Liberator”

   Today’s gospel is a rather loaded one! In many respects, it fits in well with the themes of this Epiphany season, in which we emphasize God’s Good News of Grace Incarnate reaching out to all peoples, regardless of sex, age, colour, creed or social status. Moreover, this gospel is an excellent brief summary of Jesus’ ministry, as well as A Perfect Model of ministry for each one of us today. This gospel is a loaded one because it has immense, revolutionary implications for everyone—as Jesus tells his synagogue audience that he is fulfilling the words of Isaiah 58:6 and 61:1-2. These words are nothing short of revolutionary, since they advocate radical changes of liberation, involving everyone, but primarily for The Poor.

   In human history, we use the term “revolutionary” to describe new discoveries, which change us and the ways that we see our world. For example, before the days of Nicholas Copernicus, the Polish astronomer (1473-1543), most—if not all—human beings believed that all of the planets in our solar system, including the sun traveled around the earth. Copernicus changed all of that by the revolutionary discovery that the planets, including earth, travel around the sun.

   Today in the Christian Church, we are in the midst of a change, which is “revolutionary,” because of a biblical discovery, changing the ways that we see our world. This discovery is however not new, it was there all along. Several biblical prophets and poets boldly proclaimed it. Jesus himself believed that it was integral to his messianic mission and ministry.

   This “revolutionary” biblical discovery in the Christian Church today is spelled out in its clearest form in the world’s poorest nations. What is this “revolutionary” biblical discovery anyway? In the words of the Latin American church, during a conference at Puebla, Mexico back in 1979, it was formulated by their bishops and other leaders this way: “God’s preferential option for the poor.” It is GOD’S preferential option because without God, the poor can do nothing. As the father of Liberation Theology, Gustavo Gutierrez was fond of saying: God needs to prefer the poor because no one else does—that’s precisely why they are poor. Without God, the poor remain powerless, voiceless, hopeless, and forsaken. It is PREFERENTIAL because:

The very word “preference” denies all exclusiveness and seeks rather to call attention to those who are the first—though not the only ones—with whom we should be in solidarity. (It is preferential because it is God’s grace and love) for those on the lowest rung of the ladder of history.1

   It is God’s PREFERENCE because for centuries the world—and sadly, even the church—has not made the poor their preference. (It is an OPTION because it endeavours:)

to emphasize the freedom and commitment expressed in a decision. The commitment to the poor is not “optional” in the sense that a Christian is free to make or not make this option, or commitment, to the poor, just as the love we owe to all human beings without exception is not “optional.” (The emphasis on freedom and commitment means that it is not only God’s freedom and commitment or those who are not poor who are free and committed—although they are—rather the emphasis is:) “that the poor too have an obligation to make this option.”2

   In other words, this “revolutionary” biblical discovery means that God gives the poor number one priority. Spanish theologian, Alfredo Fierro, in his book, The Militant Gospel: A Critical Introduction To Political Theologies, put it this way: “It is the notion that evangelical love is on the side of the oppressed and that this partisanship gives it an impact and effectiveness that is socially subversive.” (p. 190) As Jesus said: “the last shall be FIRST.

   For many of the poor in the church today, the entire Bible is read and interpreted with this viewpoint of God and the poor. That is one of the reasons why this way of reading and interpreting the Bible is called Liberation Theology. For, in God’s eyes, the poor are FIRST and NUMBER ONE PRIORITY, God liberates them; God comes to give them life in all of its fullness. They are no longer powerless, voiceless, hopeless and forsaken.

   This leads us into the word liberation and its meaning—which, all too often has been misunderstood. When the poor in the church today speak of liberation, they refer to at least three things.

   Liberation involves changing social and economic structures that allow the rich to grow richer and the poor to become poorer. In our scripture passage from Luke today, we see this happening. Jesus comes to liberate by REVERSING the present social and economic structures. The poor, we are promised, receive good news, prisoners are released, the blind see, the oppressed go free. Jesus Christ comes to liberate by changing the rules of the game, working in solidarity with and for the poor. 

   Jesus comes to reverse the present economic and political structures of the world bank and the IMF—which favour rich nations by refusing to cancel completely the astronomical debts of the world’s 50 poorest nations, as the Christian Churches’ Jubilee 2000 movement has been advocating them to do, in accordance with the biblical principles of the Jubilee year found in Leviticus chapter twenty-five. A true jubilee would completely forgive all debts, paving the way for a more just society, honouring the equality and dignity of every nation, every human being.

   Jesus The Liberator comes to reverse the present situation, in which: “Every day two (or more) families leave farms in the prairie provinces. (And) Grain prices are below the cost of production.”3

   In God’s realm, the rich no longer make up the rules of the game and “call the shots.” The coming of God’s realm involves changing social and economic structures, which ensure equality and justice for all—especially the poor, who happen to comprise the majority of the world’s population.

   However, it is not good enough to enjoy ONLY social and economic liberation. Liberation also involves PERSONAL CHANGES. Jesus The Liberator liberates us on a personal level—giving us an inner freedom as we experience every kind of slavery. Even in the worst-case scenario, or the most evil oppression Jesus liberates people with an inner freedom, which can never be destroyed.

   That is precisely why the Communists could never eliminate Christianity in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union or anywhere else in the world. That is why Christians in Latin America, Africa, and Asia today who continue to suffer from horrendous violations of human rights are often more hopeful about life than a lot of people in Western Europe or Canada. That is also why—more closer to home—many prairie farm families have the strength, creativity, and resources to cope and even thrive in these troublesome times.

   Personal change is liberating because Jesus Christ gives us an inner freedom to: keep our faith and grow in it when we face even the greatest obstacles; to remain full of hope even in the most hopeless situations; to love more deeply even the most unloving people—even the enemy.

   And yet, liberation doesn’t stop there. Liberation is more than social, economic and personal—it is also LIBERATION FROM SIN. Liberation from sin gets at the deepest roots of ALL FORMS OF SLAVERY. All forms of slavery are sinful human walls that divide and separate humans from each other and from God.  Our Saviour’s suffering and death on the cross has restored our broken relationships. We are reconciled with each other and with God, thanks to Christ’s saving work on the cross.

   Liberation from sin means that as God’s restored and reconciled people, we are called to live each day in light of this fact. Our ministry is to reconcile family members, church members, friends, yes, even enemies with one another. We are called to break down all forms of slavery by continuing Christ’s ministry.

   That is an endless, and all-too-often neglected ministry. However, we are confident that Jesus Christ is with us every step of the way. Thanks be to God for that!  

 



1 M. H. Ellis & O. Maduro, editors, Expanding The View: Gustavo Gutierrez And The Future Of Liberation Theology (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1988, 1989, 1990), p. 12.

2 Ibid., pp. 12-13.

3 Cited from: Mary Sauchyn, “The Farm Crisis and the Environment,” Impetus: A Justice And Peace Newsletter, December 1991, Number 8 (Regina: The Justice & Peace Committee of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 1991), p. 1.

 

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