Released, 1/23/22

By January 31, 2022Sermons

Meadowbrook Congregational Church

Released, by the Rev. Joel K. Boyd

Edited & formatted for publication by J. E. Tucker, MPH

January 23, 2022


The Gospel According to Luke, 4:14-21 (NRSV)1         


14Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to (the) Galilee,[A] and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16When 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, 17and the scroll[B] of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: 18“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, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”


We learn a lot of things about Jesus in the first few chapters in the Gospel [According to] Luke. Curiously, we witness how the story doesn’t even begin by mentioning Jesus—directly, anyway. Rather, we witness two visits by the [arch]angel Gabriel[C], who shares good yet terrifying news of seemingly impossible, miraculous births: first to Elizabeth—in her older years—and second to the youthful Mary. The Holy Spirit is with both the baby John (Luke 1:15) and Jesus, although it is only Jesus who is conceived by the Spirit (Luke 1:35). Why did John get singled out before Jesus? we wonder.

There’s the famous nativity story of Jesus’s birth (Luke 2:1-20; Matt. 1:18-2:12). There’s also the presentation of Jesus at the Temple [in Jerusalem] (Luke 2:22-24), and that time he seemed to be lost in the Temple (Luke 2:46-49). Both times we witness thanks and praise being offered to G-d in connection to the young Jesus. We see that Jesus was unique; that there was something quite special about him.

Now, were we to read these sections of [The Gospel According to] Luke from a cultural view of the centerexclusively (in other words, not from the perspective of those living on the margins of society), then we might be tempted to paint for ourselves easily digestible lessons that do not disrupt our worldview. For example, we might picture docile scenes of delighted parents—except when they lost Jesus in the crowd—who may have even smiled with pride as their child was praised as something special. We might see ourselves as John the Baptizer pointing others to Jesus—as if he couldn’t find them himself as the Son of G-d (Mark 1:1). We might pray to have the devotion of Mary when she prays the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56). We may laugh at the fumbling foibles of Zechariah, finding ourselves to have fared better than the old priest who was mute (Luke 1:20) from doubt and who could not speak but only write (Luke 1:63) the name of his newborn son.

Reading the Bible from the cultural center alone, maybe we find that we’re as pleased with ourselves as we feel somehow above it all; that we’re able to approach the Gospel without much to lose—or even that much to gain, for that matter. That John the Baptizer viper business (Luke 3:7) does strike us as a bit distasteful and odd, and the baptism of Jesus paints a serene scene of pretty birds and a proud Dad in the clouds (John 1:32; Mark 1:10; Matt. 3:16; & Luke 3:22). The whole names thing (the genealogy?) seems so abstract and weird (Matt 1: 1-17; Luke 3:23-38, for example). Why do we need to know all these names? Can’t we just skip over this part? Well, it’s possible that we do—especially if learning about the names challenges our worldview or when comparing it to the genealogy in Matthew 1, which is different in some ways from the one in Luke (Luke 3:23-38).

Continuing with our cultural specs, we arrive with Jesus in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). Ah, the temptation! The Devil doesn’t know what’s coming to him. Silly question after silly question, Jesus knocks the Devil out, to the point of his just leaving. [It] looks like the Devil is an annoying parasite, so it’s no wonder Jesus didn’t take the bait. Hey, even we think we could have handled that, piece of cake. And here begins Jesus’ worldly ministry in Galilee (Matt. 4:12; Mark 1:14; Luke 4:14-15), which [the Lukan author] writes for us in today’s Gospel passage. Of course, I’m painting a bit of a caricature, here, right? A simplification of what could easily be anyone’s ‘plain Jane’, milk-white-toast approach to the Bible. Who thinks like this? I don’t know… probably no one. But there is some truth there in the intentional, superficial glossing-over, all of which can happen, or maybe even be encouraged to happen when we read the Bible through only our own eyes. And if we represent the cultural center (of power, influence, and control, that is), then we may end up with a habit of seeing just ourselves or “people like us” in our readings of scripture. And this is dangerous, friends. Because if we only read and think from our perspective, and we are among those with arguably the most power, influence, and control in our city, our state, our nation, our world, well, the most influence will go towards only one group of people, the powerful, barely including, and possiblyexcluding those who live on the margins of society, and by that I mean the margins of American society today.

Still, we might try to justify ourselves, thinking that we mean well or that we pray well, or that we just don’t. want. to. be. made. uncomfortable. But the Bible isn’t directed toward our comfort level (think, the cross). Nor is the Bible about one culture or group of people. The Bible speaks to all people. Just consider how many languages, countries, and different theologies we have in the Church Universal. And not all these faithful are from the cultural center. [The Lord] is praised and sought by countless faithful people living in the margins. And not all of them are White; many are Black.

The [Reformed theologian] John Calvin is often [remembered] as having said that we should view the world through the spectacles of the Bible; to understand and experience the world and our place in it as if using the Bible for glasses.2,3 Of course, it naturally follows that one should be discouraged to view the Bible through the lens of the world. Many reject this out of hand, seeing it as a gateway to revisionism or as a distortion of scripture. And I think they are correct in this assertion. I do believe that we should be approaching the world through the teaching’s invitations and corrections of the Bible, but I would push back on one point. Now, if John Calvin were here to defend himself, he’d likely crush me theologically, but as he’s blessed us to wrestle with his work alone at this time, I would like to just put forward a different spin on this ‘Bible-as-spectacles’ idea. I kindly borrow it from Miguel A. De La Torre, Ph.D., M.P.A., M.A., M.Div., who has written and taught on the topic. Friends, we may all attempt to live in the world by viewing it through the lens of the Bible, but one significant aspect is missing from this line of reasoning: the Bible can still be faithfully read and lived out in the world by people who are different from us. We don’t own the interpretation of the Bible. It is for all G-d’s people.

In his book Reading the Bible from the Margins,4 the Rev. Dr. De La Torre invites members of non-marginalized cultures to consider the ways the Bible is read by members of marginalized [ones]. For example, the invitation here may be for White, affluent, gay men to consider and reflect on the way scripture is read and experienced by Black, impoverished, gay women. What might Black women see in the Bible? What do White men see? How [does one] see the Gospel as one who is advantaged; how [does one] see the Gospel as one who is disadvantaged? How much does who we are impact how we read the Bible? What do we see when we have most all we need, and what do we see when we have next to nothing? I pray that we all can agree that G-d sets people free, that G-d blesses us by faith and by love.

We may thank G-d for the many blessings we have (and it is good and right to do so), but what about when people from marginalized communities do not have access to the same blessings that [we] enjoy—or possibly even take for granted—in communities from the cultural center?

In testifying to G-d’s role as liberator, De La Torre writes how “G-d took the first step in choosing the […] Hebrews so as to tie G-d’s will with the liberation of a politically and socially oppressed people. Just as G-d entrusted the Ten Commandments to this oppressed group so that through them G-d could be revealed to all humanity, so too are the marginalized of society chosen to become the instrument by which G-d the liberator is revealed today.”

While we may feel chosen (or to have chosen ourselves), De La Torre reminds us that it’s not really up to us; it’s G-d who chooses.

In our passage from the [Gospel According to] Luke this morning, we meet Jesus after having become well-known and taught in several synagogues.

Then, Jesus comes to his hometown of Nazareth (Luke 4:16). He went to the synagogue on the sabbath there, but we don’t know how long he was in Nazareth before that.

In the synagogue, Jesus stood to read from the scroll of the Israelite prophet Isaiah (Luke 4:17).5 [He] read from [the Book of] Isaiah 61: “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.” (Is. 61:1-2—the reading’s full Tanakhic context can be found here.)

After this reading, Jesus sat down and, having their undivided attention, spoke to everyone in the synagogue, saying, “today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)

Now we won’t get into all that follows this when folks get all upset and toss Jesus out for what he said, though it is worth keeping in mind a bit, isn’t it?

Before coming to Nazareth, Jesus had been brought by the Spirit to face the temptation of the Devil (Luke 4:1-13), and despite the great challenge to his health and stamina, Jesus did not succumb to temptation. Rather than to try to claim the power to himself, which as the Son of G-d he easily could have done, Jesus lifted the glory to the Lord G-d (Luke 4:8; Deut. 6:13). This is important because we soon see that Jesus returns to Galilee, where his hometown of Nazareth is; he returns filled with the power of the Spirit (Luke 4:14). So, it is here [in] our passage that Luke shows us the Son pointing to the Father by way of the Spirit[D] and entering the familiar: that which he’d have known all while growing up. And Jesus reads and says what he says about Isaiah’s prophecy, and with the benefit of our reading the unity of our triune G-d—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—Jesus changes the ball game. G-d has come to deliver the oppressed people; perhaps just as should have been expected.

Easy for us to say, though. Many of us haven’t had to be delivered from anything: helped here and there, sure, but delivered or released, what would we need to be released from? Sure, we may say “from our sins,” and I don’t argue that. While we may have different understandings of it, the Bible brings it before us. But what about the conditions in which we have lived, have people from the cultural center ever needed to be released from anything on a grand scale? How about marginalized communities: how have they needed [to be] released?

To be fully released from systemic oppression, there must first be educated about prior enslavement and/or disenfranchisement of those marginalized. And before any reconciliation can be achieved, in any event, there must be justice. In the case of our present series, racial reconciliation can only be “achieved” between Black and White Americans, when justice is both actualized and realized in the hearts and prayers of the Black community.

Yet what constitutes our understanding of reconciliation may be the very thing tripping us up. Remember our cultural lens can often reveal to us understandings that we want to see, not what is there.

In her 2018 book I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness,6 Austin Channing Brown writes of several misconceptions we often have about racial reconciliation—specifically, misconceptions we have in White churches. She states that, “a great many people believe reconciliation boils down to dialogue: a conference on race, a lecture, a moving sermon about the diversity we’ll see in heaven. But dialogue is productive toward reconciliation only when it leads to action – when it inverts power and pursues justice for those who are marginalized.”

Brown pleads with us [i.e., the readers] to understand how “reconciliation demands more. Reconciliation is the pursuit of the impossible – an upside-down world where those who are powerful have relinquished that power to the margins. […] Reconciliation is what Jesus does. When sin and brokenness and evil tore us from G-d, it was Jesus who reconciled us, whose body imagined a different relationship, who took upon himself the cross and became peace.”

Sisters and brothers, the Gospels proclaim a Christ who is as much of heaven as he is of this gritty earth. He is born into humility to two parents in need of explaining themselves to the powers that be. Born by the Spirit, with an entire earthly ministry in the Spirit, Christ Jesus throws himself on the line; repeatedly throws himself before us; heals us; gives food for us; cures us; raises us to life; jumps in front of the world’s judgment to take the blow of the stones thrown in hypocrisy… Jesus goes to the cross for us. He goes to the cross for all of us.

When we first picture Jesus at his home synagogue in Nazareth, it can be hard to grasp all that follows. But G-d ordained it, and Jesus became incarnate to deliver G-d’s people. “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”

As we approach the topic of racial reconciliation with humility, may we ask ourselves who we’re doing it for. The Bible can be read through lenses of all kinds, and its truth remains for all to witness.

When you require being released there is only one reason for the need: you are being held back against your will.

Friends, may we be more than mindful in considering the role we play in racial reconciliation between Black and White Americans. No one feels free when they say they are not. Assumptions should not be made from the center, anywhere. Jesus came to love his people at the margins, and he released them. We need to keep following him. And we should probably try new glasses. [But] let’s not throw ours away. Keep them; they’re yours. Maybe we can just borrow some other ones from friends we know and from friends we will make.

G-d bless you and may G-d bless us all to be faithful witnesses through Jesus [the] Christ.




  1. Society of Biblical Literature. The HarperCollins Study Bible: Fully Revised & Updated. (Meeks WA, Bassler JM, Lemke W, Niditch S, Schuller E, Attridge HW, eds.). HarperCollins; 2006.
  2. Calvin J. The need of scripture, as a guide and teacher, in coming to G-d as a creator. In: Beveridge H, ed. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Vol 1. Calvin Translation Society; 1846.
  3. Lischer R. The Company of Preachers: Wisdom on Preaching, Augustine to the Present. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; 2002.
  4. de La Torre M. Reading the Bible From the Margins. 1st ed. Orbis Books; 2002.
  5. de Jong MJ. Isaiah Among The Ancient Near Eastern Prophets: A Comparative Study of the Earliest Stages of the Isaiah Tradition and the Neo-Assyrian Prophecies. In: Vestus Testamentum Supplements. Vol 117. Brill Academic Publishers; 2007:13-17.
  6. Brown AC. I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. 1st ed. Convergent Books; 2018.



[A] That is, the region spanning from modern Lebanon’s southern mountains in the north; to the Jordan River, Golan Heights, and Sea of Galilee in the east; to the west by the Mediterranean; and by the Jezreel Valley in the south.

[B] Traditionally, the Hebrew Bible, of which the book of Isaiah is a member, is written on scrolls.

[C] Heb. גַּבְרִיאֵל; meaning, “Adonai is my strength.” Jewish tradition names Gabriel as one of the two archangels (the other being Michael) charged with defending the Israelites, and his protection is requested in the bedtime Shema liturgy. Gabriel is also credited with interpreting the prophet Daniel’s prophecies (Dan. 8:16) and waging Adonai’s war on the Assyrians (Sanh. 95b).

[D] That is, he indirectly depicts the doctrine of the Trinity. For the philosophical foundations of trinitarianism, see Tuggy’s entry titled Trinity in theStanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.