Written by Dr. Larry Anderson
Tuesday, 21 February 2012 00:00
"It's all right to talk about 'long white robes over yonder,' in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. It's all right to talk about 'streets flowing with milk and honey,' but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can't eat three square meals a day. It's all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God's preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do" (Dr. Martin Luther King; "I've Been to the Mountaintop," April 3, 1968). The next Day Dr. King was assassinated!
Jesus quotes these words in Luke 4 which were taken from Isaiah 61:1, "The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor...." That same day, an attempt was made on Jesus’ life!
In the succinct time and space of a blog I obviously can’t wrestle with all of the implications of this passage, but what I will say is Jesus was definitely letting those in the synagogue know that the Lord/Messiah had come, and they were witnessing the favorable year of the Lord. They were witnessing a year when poverty would be dealt with, hearts would be mended, and injustice would be eradicated. It was nice to hear these words, and pleasant to reflect on what a great and noble prophet Isaiah was, but it’s a different story when Jesus challenges the hearers of these words to put them into action. When we have to deal with equality, racism, and systemic oppression, it can become a bit uncomfortable as witnessed in the congregation’s response in their desire to kill Jesus on that beautiful Sabbath morning.
As I sit here on January 16, 2012, I ask myself how much has changed in the two thousand plus years since Jesus preached that morning? I ask myself how much has changed since that evening forty four years ago when Dr. King preached that message? Are we still simply spiritualizing the call to proclaim the Lord’s favor? Although the battle is no longer primarily Jew against Gentile, our world is still very much separated by skin color, economic status, and political party affiliation.
Why bring up such a touchy subject in an academic blog? Because too often we hide behind our exegesis of the Word and miss the execution of the Word. Missional Theology forces us as followers of Jesus and ambassadors of the mission to pick up our crosses and continue the self-sacrificing radical movement our Lord proclaimed He was ushering in on that Sabbath morning.
There have been more homicides in the City of Philadelphia this year than days. Teachers, coaches, priests, judges, political figures are all in the news for repulsive acts we never imagined they were capable of. The questionable practice of incarceration concerning minorities has been termed "The New Jim Crow." The economic and educational divide amongst the ‘haves and the have not’s continue to plague a nation ironically known as 'the land of equal opportunity.'
However, this blog is not about pointing the finger at any socioeconomic group or political party or race of people void of the Spirit of God. This blog is to celebrate the missional movement my seminary has helped pioneer and afforded me the right to thrive in. To actively incarnate the life of Jesus is to continue the mission of bringing the Gospel to bear on every aspect of life that is not just and godly. This King Holiday, I am encouraged because I am equipped with a theology that is not stagnant, but fluid in nature which reflects the Spirit of God. It challenges every ounce of my being not to sit back and simply preach or teach truth, but actively seek to demonstrate truth and proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
Larry L. Anderson Jr. is Assistant Professor of Practical Theology and the Director of the Urban Programs at Biblical. He is also the pastor of Great Commission Church, previously located in the suburb of Roslyn, PA, but now situated in the West Oak Lane community of Philadelphia to provide a holistic ministry to an urban setting.