For our first theme, we're walking 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?
...to proclaim freedom for the captives...
Love Does, Bob Goff tells the story of rescuing Ugandan children languishing in dark, dank jails waiting years for trial dates that never come. Most of these children are charged with petty crimes like theft and some with the more "serious" crime of defilement--having consensual sexual relations before the age of eighteen. (Essentially, parents who disapprove of a daughter's choice can simply accuse a boy of defiling their daughter and send him to jail--no other proof of the misdeed necessary.)
After rescuing more than a dozen children from one jail, Goff took the old wooden door of the jail, ripped it off it's hinges and placed it in the corner of his office as a reminder--a reminder "that God searches for us, no matter what dark place we're in or what door we're behind. He hears our impossible, audacious prayers for ourselves and others. And he delights in forgiving us and then answering those prayers by letting us return home to him. It reminds [him] that when we take Jesus up on his promises, he doesn't just stand in our lives knocking. He rips our small view of him and what he can make possible right off the hinges."
Right off the hinges.
The image is a violent one--ripping, not unscrewing and gently lifting, but ripping.
It's a violent image because I think when it comes to captivity we need to be violently released. We need a prison break. We need the earth to shake and the walls to crumble. We need impossibly thick curtains ripped in two. We need doors to be ripped off their hinges.
It's a violent image because we need the impossibility of the door ever being put back on it's hinges.
The kind of freedom--real true freedom--Christ proclaims to the captives is a violent freedom that comes with a high cost. It comes with the death of a savior. It comes with the falling apart of all our earthly hopes so they can be replaced with heavenly ones. It comes with a law made obsolete because of a grace so big and so full. It comes with a tearing of us from our sin and scrubbing us clean in Jesus. It comes with a flooding light casting out all the darkness.
The first time I ever visited someone in jail I had just graduated from high school and was preparing to go off to college.
A longtime friend and a fellow pastor's kid had gotten into quite a few scrapes over the years, and now eighteen, one of those scrapes had finally landed him in the county jail.
We'd been writing letters back and forth and eventually he asked me if I would visit him.
It was a strange experience for an eighteen year old girl.
This wasn't the kind of visit you see in the movies with a visiting room where you sit across the table and get yelled at by the guard if you try to touch the other person. Nor was it the scene with the thick plate of glass and the telephones.
Instead we were led to the actual cells.
A long blanched white corridor. Caged light fixtures spaced evenly down the corridor. And thick steel doors each with a tiny flap covering a tiny window into the cell.
All of the visitors were escorted down the hall, each to an appointed door, the flap over the little window was opened and we picked up the phone hanging just to the right of the door.
You couldn't see far into the cell because it was so dimly lit, but I could count out six or seven bunk beds and could see a few human figures lying on them.
My friend's face appeared in the window, so different and so the same.
I don't remember what we talked about after general how-do-you-do's, but I remember distinctly when the phone went dead.
Time was up and I hadn't said goodbye. I hadn't said I'd pray for him. I hadn't said all those things I'd thought about saying on the drive over and in the line to sign-in and on the elevator ride up to the floor and on the walk down the corridor.
I hadn't said those things and now all I could do was press my hand against the window, mouth "good-bye" and shut the little flap in his face.
What I remember most about the event is how much light there was where I was standing in the corridor and how much darkness there was in the room on the other side of that inch of glass. I remember how pale and ashen he appeared with the light from the corridor illuminating his face and shadowy darkness around him. I remember wanting their to be more light on the other side. I remember wanting to be able to see him clearly--to see not only light on his face but to see hope and freedom on his face.
I remember wanting to rip that thick steel door off its hinges and let the light come flooding in.
Some of the youth I work with in my new job come to us for court ordered classes. Most of them have minor offenses and debts to society they are working off through community service and anger management classes and the like.
Often when I meet with one of these kids for the first time, I tell them for homework to go home, write down their transgression on a sheet of paper and then rip it up or bury it or burn it or cut it up or do something to destroy. Something really destructive and violent. And then when they've done that thing to tell themselves, it's in the past and it's time to deal with the consequences and move on and move towards their dreams.
I tell them this because I can see the shame in their body language and in their eyes a need to be forgiven, a need to forgive themselves, a need not to carry their transgression around with them anymore.
But I think how they find that forgiveness has to be violent. The emotion--the shame, the fear, the pain, the guilt--it has to be ripped out of them.
For these youth and for us who are emotional or mental or physical captives, it's the "impossible, audacious prayers" for forgiveness and homecoming answered in a complete tearing away of the old that give us a new, extraordinary opportunity to be new and wiser creations.
Freedom for the captives is a violent proclamation that rips and tears and makes new.
Read other posts in this series:
Proclaiming Good News to the Poor
Binding Up the Brokenhearted