Thursday, June 21, 2012

Thursday Thematics: Proclaiming Good News to the Poor

This week I'm starting a new series entitled Thursday Thematics. Thursday Thematics will consist of groups of posts focused on a given topic or passage of scripture relevant to engaging culture, knowing God, and learning to live simply and love radically. Please feel free to tweet theme suggestions to me @AmandaEPeterson.

For our first theme, we'll walk through the anointments of Isaiah 61--the passage Jesus read in the Nazareth synagogue at the beginning of his earthly ministry (Luke 4:16-20). After finishing his reading, Jesus rolls up the scroll and says to the crowd, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing." If this scripture has been fulfilled, how does a fulfilled version of Isaiah 61 impact our lives today?

...the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor...

One of the last things I did before leaving South Africa was visit a tattoo parlor for some new ink.

Both of my tattoos came about in a similar manner.

I designed and prayed and thought about them for months upon months. And then one day the design and the purpose came together and I knew without a shadow of a doubt it was time to get inked.

When that day showed up it was only two weeks before I got on the plane to go back to the US, and I knew, if it was going to be done in SA, it had to be done that day or not at all. The tattoo would need time to heal or altitude and the infections so easily spread on airplanes would cause all sorts of gross, pussy kind of trouble.

Thankfully the Lebanese dude who ran the shop fit me in to his packed schedule for the day.

Getting tattooed is not an experience you quickly forget, but I'm pretty sure this one was chart topping:

Danny (guy from Lebanon) as my South African tattoo artist.

His South African wife running the front desk and then running to get me chips when my blood sugar dropped because I was silly and didn't eat before hand.
His Moscowian colleague cutting up from across the room as he inked some college girl.
And an in depth conversation about the Syrian conflict, its impact on Lebanon and why he had left Lebanon over a decade ago and taken up refugee status in South Africa.
Oh, and let's not forget the eight foot boa constrictor who added a bit of much needed nuance.
And the whole time Danny is inking my left shoulder blade with a beautiful hand drawn Baobab tree with the words Mafoko a Molemo underneath.

Mafoko a molemo is deep or old Setswana for good news.

Good news of the kind taken straight out of Isaiah 61--the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

Some how it all seemed fitting.

Here I was chatting it up with a Lebanese, a Russian and a few South Africans with good news literally being written, with the buzz of the needle, over our conversation.

But what is this good news to the poor Isaiah and then Jesus and now us through him are to proclaim? What kind of good news have we been anointed with?

I know a lot of us who work in the helping professions, those of us who move in and among the poor on a day to day basis, and probably most everyone, we want good news to be news of riches and changing circumstances. We want poverty, especially extreme poverty, to be done away with for all time and for the good news to be news that we've in essence won the battle against poverty.

Yet it is so easy to get discouraged when that kind of radical, poverty-eliminating ending is thwarted by shortsighted congressional representatives or neighbors turning a blind eye or natural disaster or whatever.

I told a friend recently that when I get to those places of being so discouraged and thinking things will never change, I go to be with the poor. I go and visit the friends I have who are counted among the poor. I play with the kids I know who have lost mothers and fathers to poverty and its consequences. I enjoy life with the poor. And there I find hope.

I believe that kind of hope is the good news Isaiah was talking about. I don't think its good news that all your problems will be lifted and go away forever--though I do think there is much that can and should be done to help people lift themselves out of poverty. But I think it is good news that there is a togetherness--a unity--in poverty. A shared hopefulness. A shared fullness. And a God who comes down and meets the poor just where they are in there poverty.

I think it's the good news of a Jesus who praises a woman giving away in faith her last two coins to the temple collection. I think it's good news of a Jesus who says "Blessed are the poor." I think it's the good news of a Jesus who finds coins in fish's mouths. I think it's the good news of a Jesus who feeds the hungry with a few meager portions. I think it's the good news of a Jesus who recognizes how wealth can corrupt a young man's heart and keep him far from God. I think it's the good news of a Jesus who had no home and no place to lay his head. I think it's the good news of a Jesus who experienced stigma and was often forced into the margins of society. I think it's the good news of a Jesus who was abandoned by his friends when times got tough. I think it's the good news of Jesus who tells us to store up in heaven and makes us heirs along with him.

I have good news tattooed on my shoulder because every time I see it I am reminded to be good news in the lives of the poor in my life. And reminded to cease my striving for riches and to strive to be more and more like the good news Jesus.

And when I look at my tattoo, I see the baobab tree--a huge tree who can reach up to 30m or about 100ft in height. The largest in the world is in the Limpopo province of South Africa and has a circumference of 47m (about 154ft).

These trees thrive in arid climates because they are capable of storing huge amounts of water--up to 120,000 liters (32,000 gallons)--and so are incredibly drought resistant. For humans they provide a wealth or resources: water, edible leaves, fruit and seeds, fiber, dye and fuel.

Baobab trees are good news trees. They stand up in the toughest of conditions and provide and share.

I can think of so many of my friends living in poverty who are Baobab trees in their communities. Who bring water and food and fuel and life.

They are good news trees.

This is the anointing we have on us, to not only proclaim good news to the poor, but to be good news to the poor. To be baobab trees standing tall and being hope and being community and being life-bringers and good news speakers.

That's what's at the heart of being anointed to proclaim good news.

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