Posted by: rogermitchell | April 1, 2012

Transcendent good: Jesus’ practical love behaviour

Luke juxtaposes Jesus’ successful confrontation with transcendent evil with his declaration of the nature and outworking of transcendent good. Describing his return to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit,” Luke quotes Jesus as he publicly applies Isaiah 61 to himself: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Lk 4:14-19). From this we can deduce that the nature of divine being, or good transcendence, that Jesus manifests, is summed up in practical terms by communicating good news to those in poverty, proclaiming freedom to those in prison, restoring sight to the blind, and sending out free (literally ‘apostling’ apostello) those who are oppressed, and announcing the year of the Lord’s favour. Let’s take these five practical, immanent expressions of the divine character present in the power (dunamis) and anointing (chriō) of the Holy Spirit and look at them carefully.

i) To preach good news to the poor. There is a single word for “preach good news” used by Luke here. It is euaggelizo, the word from which the terms ‘evangelize,’ ‘evangelism’ and ‘evangelical’ are derived. It is important to reflect on the implications of this. The goodness of this news is vested in the revelation that God is transcendent good and that this goodness is specifically angled toward the poor. While it is clear from the other gospel writers that the word poor can be extended to include the poor in spirit, Luke chooses the unequivocal word for the destitute, ptōchos, beggars who have nothing but what they can receive from those who give to them. This, we shuld note, roots the good news back into John the Baptist’s politically orientated repentance which begins with the redistribution of wealth. So we can say that the good news is about a transcendence that manifests practically in the world by redistributing wealth to the poor. This is what evangelism and evangelical ought properly to begin with. I, for one, am reluctant to let go of these words, despite the fact that they are purloined and misused by many today who have no understanding or sympathy with this kind of radical politics.

ii) Proclaiming freedom to those in prison. In Jesus’ day this would have included common criminals and the likes of Barabbas “in prison for insurrection and murder” (Lk 23:19). It is no surprise therefore that the incarnation of transcendent goodness led to his release from prison. While it is quite in order to apply this freedom from prison metaphorically, it clearly has primary reference to God’s sympathy for those in prison, whatever they are doing there, and his determination to get them out as soon as possible. It has to mean at the very least that humane conditions, hope, protection, rehabilitation, honour and above all mercy for offenders and enemies, irrespective of whether or not they present a danger to us, is the divine priority.

iii) the recovery of sight to the blind. What makes this very challenging is that by the same token with which “release for the prisoners” carried metaphorical potential but needed first to be taken literally, this aspect of good transcendence also needs to be taken literally first. Which immediately brings the healing character of God into play, and particularly in relation to eyesight. So God focuses his kenotic love on those who can’t see, an orientation that is born out in the gospel narratives where Jesus is described as showing practical love toward and restoring sight to the blind (Mtt 9:27-30, 11:4-5, 12:22, 15:31, 21:14 et al). It follows that prayer, the gift of faith, medical knowledge and the resources to make it available is the particular application of transcendent good. This is especially poignant and salutary given the ease with which hundreds of thousands of African children’s sight could be saved easily and cheaply right now if we cared to attend to it [http://tinyurl.com/bpjsjzz].

This post is now long enough to be going on with, so I will continue with the implications of a transcendence committed to freeing the oppressed and declaring the era of divine favour in some days time.

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Responses

  1. Okay, I am an optimist and am going to try again to add a comment. . .

    Your comments on prison remind me of the recent Bryan Stevenson talk given to a TED audience. He connected character and identity to how we treat the poor and provide justice. Worth the time to watch. Here it is. .

  2. I began today with an article by Andrew Sullivan on what it means to follow Jesus (and ditch the church). Sullivan is a gay man with a catholic background. You will find this interesting. c.

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/04/01/andrew-sullivan-christianity-in-crisis.html

  3. Thank you so much for the link to Bryan Stevenson’s TED talk. How beautiful are the feet… And the representative quotation “The opposite of poverty is not wealth. … In too many places, the opposite of poverty is justice.” is worthy of MLK. As is Stevenson’s whole presentation.

    But he asks the question “how can we not be talking about this?” Read the blog and the discussion threads attaching to the video and see much of the answer. See how the mindsets have developed, not in reactionary comments, there is nothing to learn from those, but in the more thoughtful disagreements. See how the seduction of values and prejudices enables the data to be skewed and for obvious evidence to have its implications reversed.


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