Luke tells us that at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus was “filled with the power of the Spirit” and developed a reputation as a teacher throughout Galilee. In Luke 4:14-21 Jesus’s return to his hometown of Nazareth and speaks in the synagogue. Reading from the book of Isaiah, he 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,”
Luke includes the reading of Isaiah to emphasize two points. Jesus was reaffirming God’s commitment to the poor. His purpose was not to help the rich or powerful but the poor and marginalized. Since most Jews considered themselves as such under the burdensome laws and unfair taxes of Rome, they welcomed the fulfillment of these scriptures.
Secondly, Luke’s Gospel emphasizes the work of the Holy Spirit more than any other account. Luke contends that the effort of the apostles and Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit and directed toward those who are marginalized by society: women, children, slaves, the sick, the poor and others who were not regarded as acceptable in the social order. By reading Isaiah 61:1-2, Jesus defines the nature of his ministry, validates it with scriptures from the Jewish Bible and proclaims it to be the work of the Spirit.
Later in Luke, Jesus would quote Psalms 118:22 and declare that “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Can we infer from this that those who reject the cornerstone also reject the poor which Jesus was anointed to deliver from poverty? The inverse is those who follow Jesus are fulfilling the call of the Holy Spirit to raise the poor from poverty? Since a cornerstone is integral to the foundation of a structure then it can be argued that how we care for the impoverished in our society is reflective of the impact of Christ’s church on the moral strength of our culture.
The principal purpose of Christ’s mission was to bring the gift of salvation to God’s children which was fulfilled through our spiritual rebirth at Christ’s resurrection. We need to ask what does God want us to do with this gift? By referencing Jesus’s reading of Isaiah, Luke declares the intention of Christ’s church is to uplift the poor.
Who then are the poor? This scripture states it includes the imprisoned, the blind and the oppressed. Does it also include those who are poor in spirit, those who are separated from God’s Grace, those who “…are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”? (Matthew 16:23) Spiritual poverty, which is the absence of God’s Grace in our lives, can lead to a “blindness’ of God’s true purpose and an imprisonment to political and cultural dogmas.
In my mind this scripture is a clarion call to the modern church. It reminds us that if a church is not engaged in helping the “poor” it is not fulfilling its spiritual purpose. The poor includes not only the financially, physically, and socially disadvantaged, it also includes the spiritually impoverished. This becomes a challenging task for a church of any size.
Many churches see themselves as the people of Nazareth did, poor and oppressed. They looked to Jesus to “Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.” (vs. 23). Churches need to see themselves as spiritually enriched by the same Holy Spirit that came upon Jesus. When church leaders, including the pastor, are overwhelmed by their own sense of poverty, primarily lack of resources and the pressing needs of things which need to be done, they become blind to the presence of the Holy Spirit and are unable to bring the “good news” to those who are genuinely poor.