Radical?

In this week’s Gospel from Luke, Jesus stands up to read at the synagogue on the Sabbath. He unrolls the scroll of the book of the prophet Isaiah that is handed to him and proceeds to read this passage: “The Spirit of the Holy One is upon me; therefore, God has anointed me and sent me to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty for captives, sight to the blind, release to prisoners, to announce a year of favor from God.” With all eyes upon him, Jesus announces, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus is making it clear that he is the anointed one of God, the one who ushers in God’s kingdom in which the poor will receive good news, the captives will be freed, the blind will see, and all will experience the favor of God.

As I read this passage and thought about how it applies to my life, my first inclination was to spiritualize it. Since I do not encounter too many actual poor people or actual captives or actual blind people, I wanted to think about it more metaphorically. Who are the poor in spirit in my life to whom I can proclaim good news? Who are those who are held spiritually captive by challenges they face either from within or outside of themselves and what can I do to help free them? Who are those who are spiritually blind and how might I walk with them toward sight on their spiritual journeys?

Annunciation House Soccer Game of Guests and Volunteers.

Annunciation House Soccer Game of Guests and Volunteers.

But then I read this week’s Spirit magazine article by Cindy Schlosser, who gave two and a half years of her life to live and volunteer at Annunciation House, a home for immigrants and refugees in El Paso, Texas. I also thought of my own sister. After college, she spent a year living in intentional community with other volunteers while working at a shelter for homeless women and their children. A few years later, she spent another year in a poor village in Uruguay, serving the community in multiple ways, from teaching English at the local elementary school to offering yoga classes to doing odd jobs at the church. Cindy and my sister are just two examples of people who have not spiritualized Jesus’ call to his disciples to do the work of justice. Both of them have made radical commitments to serve those who are most marginalized in our society and to advocate for those who are actually, materially poor and actually captive to social systems that keep them in poverty.

And then I think about myself, and I feel a discomfort that I always feel when I encounter the stories of those who live a radical commitment to justice in their lives. It is a discomfort that I try to ignore and try to rationalize away by thinking about all the things I do already to live as a disciple of Christ. What makes me uncomfortable is that I have this sense that God is calling me to be more radical. I have a sense that there is something more that I should be or could be doing.

At times like these, I am reminded of a prayer that is attributed to Saint Augustine: “Dear God, please make me good, just not yet.” Augustine famously struggled with the passions of the flesh and the joys of the world. Like many of us, he enjoyed things that he knew were not good for him, and he wanted to be freed from his desire for these things … just not yet. My version of the prayer goes like this: “Dear God, please make me a radical instrument for your peace and justice, just not yet.” Even though I feel bad, it is the best I can muster for now.

How do you feel or react when you hear stories about people who have made radical commitments to doing God’s work for justice in the world?

To what do you feel God is calling you? How can you proclaim good news to the poor, liberty for captives, sight to the blind, and release to prisoners in your life?

What prayers do you make to God about how you hope God will shape you to be an instrument of God’s justice and peace?

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