Over Against Empire

A reading for Thursday, September 25, 2014: Luke 4:14-30.

The gospel of Jesus Christ makes no sense unless it is located over against something that oppresses, something we know as the empire even if we don't talk about it that way.

Brian Keesmat and Sylvia Walsh wrote, "Israel is called to be an alternative socioeconomic witness to empire... If the empire is a place of slavery and death, then Israel is called to be a people of jubilee, where slaves are released and life renewed."

In the Old Testament, Egypt was the empire enslaving and killing the Israelites and God delivered. Then the Assyrians, and then the Babylonians. By the time of the New Testament, the Romans had occupied the land and the people. When Jesus stands in the synagogue and proclaims, "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," most hear this good news over against the Roman empire. At first they applaud Jesus.

Then Jesus expands the message and proclaims that any empire that oppresses is subject to the gospel. Even religious arrogance and exclusivism, which no doubt those living in Nazareth were guilty of. The only enemy of the gospel is empire, and empire is always on the march enslaving and killing. Sometimes there is a tendency to exchange one empire for another one. Jesus says the only salvation from empire is from God. This was not a welcome message in Jesus' hometown.

The truth is empire still enslaves and kills. Today's its political and economic. It's corporate globalization and unchecked nationalism. It's consumerism proclaiming, "You are what you buy!" It's competition that doesn't allow for the celebration of an opponents win, and it's our sense of anxiety that we are on our own against all others. Empire is always on the march...

The good news is that God still works against empire, offering freedom to the oppressed and proclaiming the year of the Lord's favor... jubilee. Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ, the one that has come so that we might be saved.


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