Early in Jesus’ earthly ministry, in his now famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus blessed the poor, the mourning, the meek, the hungry and thirsty, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and those who were being persecuted. (Matthew 5:3-12) He continued his empowering sermon telling them ‘you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.’ (Matthew 5:13-16) Several months later, Jesus furthered his call to liberty when he made a declaration of profound import:
“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
– Luke 4:14-21
Yes, that day in the 1st century, Jesus declared the spiritual independence of the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. He proclaimed good news and divine favor for all who had been misused and abused by religious authority. And he began a ministry of empowerment unlike anything the religious world had known up to that time.
Jesus’ liberating teachings brought him in direct conflict with the religious leaders of his day who basked in their self-proclaimed superiority. He once said:
“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.”
– Matthew 23:2-7
And in the very presence of these same religious leaders, Jesus went on to tell his disciples:
“But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
– Matthew 23:8-10
So how is it that we have allowed ourselves to return to elementary doctrines of class distinctions that demoralize and imprison the disciples of Christ? How have Christians allowed themselves to return to the servitude of men who dare ‘sit in Moses’ seat’ as if God is speaking directly through them? How is it that full grown men and women will freely relinquish their God given freedom of thought, their God given ability to critically analyze a matter, their God given freedom to act independent of ecclesiastical sanction? By abdicating the freedom that Christ delivered, the believer has lazily contributed to man dominating man to his injury? (Ecclesiastes 8:9) The time has surely come for us to accept Jesus’ declaration of spiritual independence from the control of oppressive religious leaders and stand as the ‘salt of the earth and the light of the world!’