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Portraits of Christ: Luke’s Gospel

Particularly in Luke, we see a Jesus born and raised in the backwaters of insignificant Jewish towns - born in Bethlehem, and growing up in the small farm village of Nazareth. You would think that if God mainly cared for or wanted to influence the powerful and mighty of the world, then Jesus should have been born in Rome, or Athens, or Alexandria, or at least Jerusalem. Instead he is born to a peasant girl named Mary in the middle of nowhere, at a time when the province of Judea suffered under poverty and oppression. Incredibly, her peasant son changed the world. But he never did it by allying himself with the rich and powerful or even seeking them out in order to implement his program. Usually if you want to start an influential movement, even as a grassroots movement, you would still recruit some wealthy donors and celebrities or leaders to promote your movement. Jesus did it totally opposite. He did not even focus on winning over the religious establishment; in fact, he often challenged it.

Consider his social circle and who he primarily ministered to - the common people. He reached out to the poor, the sinners, and tax collectors. What’s amazing is that he was a rabbi - a religious teacher - and he did this. In doing so, he violated a number of religious laws and cultural norms that other rabbis followed. He also violated the rule stating that rabbis were to never associate publicly with women. Jesus ministered to women, healed women, taught women. He had female followers (i.e., disciples), and he was derided for associating with the “immoral” women that he ministered to (Mk. 2, Jn. 8, Mt. 21.31). His radical behavior and teachings stoked the disdain of the religious and political establishment.

Though most Jewish people at the time were poor, he does not offer them promises of money, material blessings, or success. He does not give them advice for achieving success (nor does he moralize about needing to work harder). God is not so interested in those external worldly trappings, and people are already too consumed with them. He instead ministers to their more fundamental spiritual and emotional needs, and offers them an eternal hope that transcends their current difficulties in life.

All this shows that God has a heart for the poor, the excluded, the disenfranchised, and the downtrodden. This is reflected in Mary’s song, the Magnificat (Latin for “[my soul] glorifies”), which celebrates God’s concern for the poor, and God’s rejection of the rich and powerful of the world. This is also reflected when he read from Isaiah (Luke 4) as his mission statement - setting captives (prisoners) free, healing the blind, freeing the oppressed, and preaching the gospel to the poor. We see this in his ministry of teaching his lost sheep the spiritual truths of his kingdom, as well as healing people physically and spiritually, and freeing people of their demons, that is, their spiritual, psychological, and emotional bondage.

This is the Jesus that prosperity gospel teachers completely miss. Worldly materialism as well as the sanctified materialism of prosperity theology take our eyes off God and focus them on temporary, fleeting things. It is human nature, for example, for us to want to be with rich, influential, or attractive people. In fact, we idolize celebrities with those traits, because we want to be like them - adoring celebrities is a projection of our own desires and wish-fulfillment.

The gospel challenges us to evaluate ourselves. Do we concern ourselves with Christ-centered, people-oriented kingdom values, or do we concern ourselves with our money, possessions, social status, and Facebook followers? Is the church all about being in our sanctuary on the weekends, or does it also include going out into the community and into the world? Jesus’ life and teaching call us to to focus on what God values, rather than our self-fulfillment wishes. It calls us to think more about the less trendy people, the hurting, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, the down-and-out, and the poor. The gospel calls us to evaluate how our values align with God’s, and how our church priorities align with Jesus’ ministry priorities.


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