No matter how many times I read Isaiah 61, it’s still the end of the first sentence that arrests my attention the most.
“...good news to the poor.”
Of all that God could choose to proclaim through Isaiah, he starts with good news. Of all that Jesus could choose to quote as he declares what his presence on the earth is about, he starts with good news.
To have the Spirit of God upon you, to carry God’s presence within you, is first and foremost good news. God is good news. God-made-knowable showing up in Jesus is good news. No guilt or judgement. No fear of losing your grasp on reality or being overpowered against your will. God pouring out on humanity is good news.
However, if we believe God created and loves all of creation, and Jesus came because God so loved the world, not just a certain segment of deserving people, the ending of the first sentence is particularly striking. Isaiah names a specific context in which this good news is especially to be given;
“...to the poor.”
By naming those in the most humble, downtrodden, powerless context as the ones for whom good news has come, blows the doors off the reach of the gospel. If God is good news for those who look least favoured in the eyes of the world, then there is no place on earth and no person under the sun, for whom Jesus is not good news.
Now, imagine these words coming out of the mouth of a poor carpenter’s son (Luke 4: 16-), whose parents could not afford the required sacrifice given to the temple when Jesus was born, so had to make do with birds (Luke 2:24 and Leviticus 12:8). By Jesus being the vessel the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord has anointed to proclaim this good news to the poor, who he is, is also a proclamation. Jesus is the poor. Jesus is good news embodied in the poor, he is not talking from a place of privilege.
And this is why the last five words disarm me every time. Because “the poor” are not a distant category of “other people”. “The poor” are not a social action project. “The poor” is Jesus. We find God poured out upon the poorest, turning upside down our notions of what blessing in the Kingdom truly means. Until we have found Jesus and ourselves inextricably bound up with the suffering and downtrodden of the world, we may actually miss the fullness of what good news is.
How does your reading and perception of Isaiah 61:1 change to know that Jesus chose to come to earth and proclaim good news as the poor as well as to the poor? What does this vision of Jesus challenge in you? How is this good news?
We invite you to join us as we journey slowly and prayerfully through Isaiah 61 - line by line over forty days.