On January 1st 1863 the Emancipation Proclamation was issued in the midst of the Civil War. Slaves who lived within the borders of the Confederacy remained in bondage. Most never heard about the proclamation until the last days of the conflict; some only heard well after the war’s end – the basis of Juneteenth Celebration when freedom from slavery was proclaimed to the people of Galveston months after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.
The Emancipation’s authority was denied and nullified by local and regional power. Yet Lincoln, in both his words and his claim to authority over the whole of the split and rebellious Union, contended that the proclamation was nonetheless true and real. And so this flawed and partial emancipation became the herald of a fuller freedom, a fulfillment yet unreached.
Today’s gospel is most often known as “The Rejection at Nazareth.” A more appropriate title would be, “Jesus’ announcement that Salvation is at hand.”
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.”
Lots of people debate and analyze who are the captives, the blind, the oppressed and the poor. But good news is only good news when it meets the needs of the people. As Edward Markquart remarked
God’s story is always related to human need. For example, if a woman is dying of cancer, the gospel is God’s strong word of resurrection. If a person is permeated with guilt, the gospel is God’s assurance of forgiveness. If people experience extreme suffering, the gospel is the prayer: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.” For the starving, the gospel may be bread. For a homeless refugee, the gospel may be freedom in a new homeland. For others, the gospel may be freedom from political tyranny. The gospel is always related to human need. It is never truth in a vacuum, a theologically true statement which may or may not relate to one’s life. The gospel is God’s truth, God’s message, God’s action, God’s word to a particular person, to a particular need, to a particular historical situation. You don’t throw a drowning person a sandwich. However good the sandwich may be, it just doesn’t meet that person’s need. You throw a drowning person a life jacket or a lifeline, or you dive in for the rescue. So it is with the gospel. The gospel is God’s truth, God’s action, aimed at a particular human need.
Like the Emancipation Proclamation, it may be a herald of a fuller freedom, one as yet unreached, but it is nonetheless true and real.