“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Have you heard those words before?
They are commonly attributed to Nelson Mandela. About 10 years ago, I saw them on the walls of 2 different religious institutions and underneath them they have the name: Nelson Mandela – from his Inaugural address as President of South Africa. What really fascinated me after I first read those words is the fact he never actually wrote them. And in addition, he never in fact spoke them as part of his inaugural address. He said other important and inspiring things, but these words were not among them.
When I discovered that I was amazed how after just 10-15 years, words that were never spoken by Nelson Mandela were attributed to him. How quickly legends grow, even in an age of instant mass communication. They grow around people who make a big difference in the world. And so perhaps it is not surprising in the end that words like this should be attributed to Nelson Mandela as part of his inaugural address . Because he did inspire many people around the world, and in South Africa, both black and white, to become our better selves, and so to let our own light’s shine.
Even if those specific words were not used in his inaugural address, they do embody something of the effect that he had on many people.
Inaugural addresses are really important...because they give an indication of the values and the program of the one who is giving the address:
Abraham Lincoln in his inaugural speech as United States President, to a country that had been divided by civil war, ended with the following moving words:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies.”
Winston Church in his inaugural address as prime minister to parliament and a nation on the brink of war said the following:
“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” Powerful words that galvanised a nation.
Luke 4:18-21 represent the inaugural address of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel. In these 6-8 lines, Luke identifies and summarises for us the shape that Jesus’ ministry would take.
One could say that it is a 5 point sermon...
- Point number 1: I have come to proclaim good news to the poor. According to Luke, at the top of Jesus agenda: the poor. Throughout the history of Christianity, there has been a tendency to spiritualise the message of Jesus, as though Jesus were only speaking about other-worldy matters... about life after death. Many forms of Christianity reduce Christianity to a way of getting into heaven. Even in Matthew’s Gospel it speaks of the spiritually poor. I do believe that there are many kinds of poverty. It is possible to be rich in money but be poor in social skills, to be poor in things that really matter, like love. It is also possible to be materially poor but to be rich in spirit and heart. But Luke’s Gospel reminds us that Jesus message was not just about some spiritual other world, but had a social dimension that just cannot be avoided. Love is not love unless it is expressed in practical ways to those in genuine need.
- Point number 2: Jesus has come to release captives and prisoners. It is a reminder that God is in the business of setting people free. The foundation story of the Old Testament is the story of Exodus, that story when God sets a bunch of Hebrew slaves free from oppression in Egypt. And the whole of the rest of the Old Testament is working out the implications of what it means to be free. The 10 commandments for example were meant to be a means of protecting and nurturing Israel’s freedom and not inhibiting it. True freedom does require a certain amount of discipline. Jesus comes to continue that work of setting people free, from whatever it is that binds them. Whether it is some persistent moral failure or addiction or a toxic situation or relationship, Jesus proclaims God’s wish for us that we should be free.
- Point number 3: Recovery of sight to the blind. Where people walk in darkness, not knowing who they are or where they are going, Jesus comes to give people a sense of direction and meaning and purpose in life. He comes to open our eyes, to see God’s Glory that is shining in this world like that burning bush in the story of Moses. Its happening every moment of every day. There are burning bushes all around us.
Thomas Merton once wrote: “Life is this simple. We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time. This is not just a nice story or a fable. It is true.
Jesus comes to unveil our eyes to give recovery of sight to the blind.
- Point number 4: Jesus comes to bind up the bruised and broken-hearted. As we read through the Gospels, one gets a deep sense that in Jesus’ presence, the broken-hearted and those bruised in life find comfort and a friend. As Jesus says in Matthews Gospel: Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. It is a reminder that God’s heart is moved in a special way for those who are victims for those who are broken and those who are bruised in life.
- Point number 5: Lastly, Jesus comes to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour. It is interesting. Jesus has not come to proclaim the year of God’s judgement but the year of God’s favour. This is a good new message. In these verses, Jesus is in fact quoting from Isaiah 61. The original context in which Isaiah 61 was written was to a people who had spent 60 years in exile in Babylon, and who had now returned to their homeland. But the joy of leaving Babylon, the land of their captivity, was soon dampened by the realisation that the land they were returning to was in fact in ruins. Trying to make a home in the midst of the ruins of a glorious land they had left behind must have been disheartening for many. It is in this context that the prophet proclaim the year of God’s favour. The promise and the hope that God would turn things around. Jesus comes to proclaim the year of God’s favour to those who feel they are sitting in the midst of the ruins and the rubble of life.
If Jesus comes to proclaim good news to the poor, release for captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to bind up the broken hearted and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, which one of those points speaks most deeply into your place of need today.
And secondly, if God is calling you to be an agent of God’s love in somebody else's life today, then which of those 5 points express most accurately God’s call to you? To proclaim good news to the poor? TO help release someone who is feeling like they have become a captive, to reach out to care for someone who is bruised and broken hearted, or to be a blessing to someone this year that they may have a sense of God’s favour being upon them in 2019 where 2018 may have felt like a year of desolation.