Being 'religious' also means loving, helping others
By Donald Waltz
Saturday, May 19, 2018
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” — Luke 4:18-19 (The Bible, New International Version)
I once remember a professor at Bible college told me that the Gospel can be summed up as “the birth, life, ministry, miracles, death and resurrection of Jesus.” I pondered on that definition, because when I was younger I always thought the Gospel was simply the plan of salvation. It had never occurred to me that the Gospel literally is Jesus. After having this perspective, my outlook on others around me changed. I found out that I was leaving an essential part of the Gospel out. I realized the Gospel is more than telling someone how to be saved; it is also showing the good news and love of Jesus to people who are afflicted and hurting.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus goes to Nazareth, his hometown. He goes to the temple on the Sabbath and reads a passage from Isaiah 61. The passage talks about the Spirit of the Lord being anointed on the prophet then proclaiming the good news. During the time of Isaiah and Jesus, people considered certain groups to be unworthy of love and care. In fact, many people felt that being poor, imprisoned, blind, or oppressed was a form of consequence given out by God. Jesus opposed this type of thinking as He proclaimed the good news by helping the poor, freeing the prisoner, giving sight to the blind, and bringing justice to the oppressed.
In our country, who are the poor, the imprisoned, the blind, and the oppressed? Do we, as Americans and Christians, look at these people with love and compassion? My concern is that many Christians believe the poor deserve to be poor, prisoners should stay in prison, the blind should remain blind, and that the oppressed brought their oppression on themselves. In these examples justice is not being granted to the oppressed. When I think of our lack of social justice, I am reminded of God’s words toward Israel in the Book of Amos. Israelites during that time enjoyed being “religious,” but left out religious duties of loving and helping people.
Amos 5:21 says, “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.” I wonder if God despises our religious festivals. Christianity should not be about joining a “country club” or about getting our pews filled. Rather, Christianity should be about proclaiming the same good news that Jesus proclaimed. It is time that we follow Jesus’ example and help the poor, set the prisoner free, give sight to the blind, and bring justice to the oppressed. The Gospel is more than explaining the salvation process, it is also proclaiming the good news and love of Jesus to those who are afflicted and hurting.
Donald Waltz is pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).