Isaiah 61:1 “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”
A little cottage on another street in my neighborhood was recently sold. As Ruckus and I walked by there today it was apparent that someone else had moved in. There was a truck in the driveway. And there was a POW flag flying from the front door. The stark black and white of the flag made the colorful house and yard seem ugly, much as I’m sure the situation has done to the life of whoever it is that lives there.
My mind has been thinking about prisons lately as I contemplate my mother’s situation. Of course since the Alzheimer’s began to close her in six years ago, she has lived in prison. We found her the best prison that we could at The Birches, but her long-term care insurance was good for only three years. It is gone and now she must move to a place that accepts public funds. “This is the Medicaid bed we have open,” said an admissions director at one of the options. Another woman groaned from the other bed in the drab room. The difference between the “haves” at The Birches and the “have nots” here was stark and the prison image had jumped immediately to my mind.
There are other sorts of prisons, too: Mental illness, addictions, abusive homes, ignorance, poverty.
Against all of that stand the words of the prophet Isaiah above. They are words that carry special weight because Jesus uses them to describe himself when he preaches in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. He pulls out the Isaiah scroll, reads this portion (with a little more) and then announces that “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” You can read it in Luke 4.
Jesus is rejected at the synagogue, but not for this. They actually like this part, and who wouldn’t? The people of Israel in Jesus’ day were imprisoned in their own country by the occupying Romans. They were all for anybody who offered freedom and release, naturally assuming that it was freedom from the Romans that Jesus was talking about. But, of course, that wasn’t what he was talking about. He was proclaiming a freedom both less and more than that. He was proclaiming a soul freedom, a freedom from fear and death and the bonds of sin. If only that’s what they had wanted!
But I can hardly blame them. If Jesus appeared to me now, I would want freedom for my mother. He might offer me a freedom worth much, much more, but chances are I would be angry that he didn’t give me the kind of freedom I was looking for. If he appeared to that little house on the next street over, they too would have a very specific type of freedom in mind. Most of us would. The trick to this whole faith thing is learning to want what God offers instead of what we believe is best.
Now don’t ask me why God doesn’t think it’s best to either give my mother back her incredible mind or release her from this life. I don’t know the answer to that any more than you do. That’s why it’s called “faith” instead of “knowledge.” I do know that she is freed from death and that the disease that is killing her mind and her body cannot kill her soul. That promise has been fulfilled in my hearing.
Help us to trust you to, Lord, even from the prisons of this life. Amen.
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