Have you noticed that marketing is becoming more and more targeted to your tastes? You get an email inviting you to buy items very similar to your recent purchases. Texts, mail and phone calls arrive from companies who seem to know your lifestyle.
It’s a massive operation, supported by countless algorithms, surveys and focus groups. And it pays off. Billions are generated by making sure customers are understood.
Not surprising to 21st century shoppers, but perhaps less common in 1st century spirituality, the idea of tailor-made messaging, rather than one-size-fits-all, is clear in the approach of the Son of Man.
In contrast to the rabbis of his day, who wanted the listeners to be molded, shaped to size, conforming to a rigid, legalized lifestyle, Jesus had the hearts of his hearers in mind. In fact he had four, possibly five, target audiences, all of whom were to be offered amazing “deals”.
According to the World Bank, almost half the world – over three billion people, live on less than two dollars fifty a day, and at least 80% of humanity lives on less than ten dollars a day.
According to the United Nations, the poorest 40% of the world’s population account for 5% of global income, whereas the richest 20% account for three quarters of the world income.
According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty.
However you define “poor”, they are in the majority. There is evidence that the Son of Man also tapped into the labels of his day by including any who were “Torah ignorant or lax”, in his word: poor.
Any way you look at it, the Son of Man announces that he is empowered and authorized to preach “good news to the poor”. Today, the word “preach” is associated with bad news, intrusiveness or narrow-minded approaches. But this preaching was undiluted good news.
I’m going to suggest that you ask why his preaching was such good news, not just as a matter of interest, but by way of testing your own “good news rating”.
Here are a few starters:
The message of the Kingdom that the Son of Man preached was good news to the poor because it was free.
Second, it was good news for the poor because it came to you.
Third, again it was good news because it gave permanent, un-retractable hope, which went beyond death.
Last, in my short list, it was good news because it worked for you, and not the other way round.
I doubt if you disagree with any of my starters but I guarantee that you will forget one of them this week.
For the poor, then as now: something free, delivered to you, eternally guaranteed and empowering, was great news.
For the poor, then as now: inability to pay, to travel, to obtain something that lasts, or that served your needs rather than enslaving you, was out of reach.
Now may I ask you about your good news rating? Are you somehow still trying to pay God for your forgiveness? Are you secretly still believing you can earn it?
Perhaps more subtly, how financially well off does someone have to be to share your Christian faith? It’s free, of course, but look around your Christian group – is there room for someone who is truly down and out?
May I ask if your good news goes out to people, or they have to come and get it? Does mine?
Again is your good news dependent on some external conformation to rules, conventions or regulations, such that it can be withdrawn if you cease to qualify? Or does it last forever?
Does your good news actually make a difference for the poor who are disempowered, or does it make it harder for them?
These are not trivial questions. Nor are they just personal. They are corporate and business level questions.
The Son of Man made it his business to bring good news to the poor. That makes it your business this week as well. Decisions you make at work will reinforce or devalue your good news rating.
I am praying that the Spirit will anoint me to be good news, and I hope you are as well.
4 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.
3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”
4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”
5 The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7 If you worship me, it will all be yours.”
8 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”
9 The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. 10 For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you
to guard you carefully;
11 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
12 Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
13 When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.
14 Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
18 “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,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
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