When Jesus talked about witness, he referred to our being his witnesses. We are to be his evidence as we show the world that the Kingdom of God has come.
• Lisa Sharon Harper
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On Sundays in Easter, we are hearing from Lisa Sharon Harper about The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right. Her book is about the fullness of the good news that Jesus lived, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven to give us. Harper tells us that God’s good news is about shalom, the opposite of our often “thin” understanding of the gospel.
Today and next week, we will skip ahead to the last couple of chapters in The Very Good Gospel to wrap up this series.
Chapter 11 reminds us as Christ-followers that we are called to witness to the shalom that God is bringing into the world through Jesus. But this witness is not just a verbal announcement that Jesus is King. It also involves our participation in “doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8). Furthermore, witnessing is not simply an individual telling his or her story of encountering Jesus. It is the calling to form new communities that will embody and promote shalom in the world.
In Luke 4, Jesus set forth his own mission statement:
When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
‘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,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ (Luke 4:16-19)
Jesus described his own mission in terms of the instructions that Israel received in the Torah to practice Jubilee, a year they were to set aside to restore their communities to a kind of “default” setting of justice and equality.
While Mark’s account reveals Jesus’s identity, Luke’s account clarifies Jesus’s vocation. What will the King’s rule look like? We saw in the previous chapter that Jesus’s first sermon in Luke 4 was a declaration of opposition to the dominion of men. In his first sermon, Jesus’s vocation is clarified. It is to lift oppression and bring good news to the poor. The vocation of Jesus is to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, a direct reference to the year of jubilee.
As we discussed earlier, the year of jubilee was one of the pillars of God’s governance of Israel. Every fifty years, all debts were to be forgiven, all slaves were to be set free, and all land was to be returned to its original deed holder.
In God’s economy, no family would live in poverty in perpetuity. There would always be an economic reset button. We don’t know if Israel ever practiced jubilee, but we do know that Jesus proclaimed it. Jesus’s interaction with the tax collector Zacchaeus led that officer of the state to enact his own form of jubilee. In Luke 4, Jesus described his vocation. It is, therefore, also the vocation of all his followers.
What does it mean, then, to be a witness? It is not enough for followers to testify with their mouth, “Lord, Lord.” We must do “the will of my Father in heaven,” Jesus said in Matthew 7, in order to be evidence of the presence of the Kingdom. We must bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. We must let the oppressed go free and proclaim the year of jubilee. This is what it takes to be evidence of the presence of God’s reign on earth.
What would the church look like if we were to take this calling seriously? — the calling to practice and advocate for jubilee throughout the earth, that all might live in shalom?