Nazareth Manifesto- A New Perspective
by Ray Bakke
Nazareth Manifesto-A New Perspective
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom to prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour."' (Luke 4: 18 & 19) This portion of the Scripture is popularly known as the `Nazareth Manifesto". When Lord Jesus began His ministry, He read from the scroll of Isaiah 61:1‑2 at a synagogue in Nazareth. These words are quoted widely and many theologians and missiologists interpret it differently. The predominant group lobbies this in favour of marginalized, poor, destitute, orphans, oppressed and others. So the gospel is being preached exclusively to the poor by many churches and missions. Does this passage imply such interpretation?
Who is poor?
a) Spiritually poor
The definition for poor is complicated and relative. David calls himself "poor and needy". Is a king poor materially? If not, it implies that David was poor and vulnerable spiritually. Gospel which is exclusively for the materially and economically poor is not correct according to Scriptures.
b) Materially and economically poor, a relative term
There are people who live in material poverty. They have no access to the latest technological developments. There may be a need for the transfer of technology or know‑how. At the same time, there are poor people who know that there are solutions but cannot afford the expenses. For example, the cataract in the eye is a cause of blindness in many parts of the world. Some countries do not have the technical knowledge of surgical correction of the eyes. In some countries the technology is available but people are not able to afford it. If the Gospel is only for the poor does the economically well off nations in West need the gospel? Poor in one country may be better off than the richest man in another country.
c) Emotionally poor
There are people with low self‑esteem. They do not have the sense of belonging. Zachaeus is a good example from the Bible. He had wealth, position in the government and was well‑off economically. But, he was not accepted. He was longing for approval and acceptance. When Jesus Christ offered to come to his home, he got the approval. The Gospel is for all. Christ died for all human beings. His work of redemption is for all irrespective of their social, economical and religious status. If the gospel is limited to the poor, then we try to limit the effectiveness of the redemption plan to the poor. If about 60% of Indians are poor then the gospel is only for this segment of the population. Did Christ die for the other 40% of the population? Yes. If yes, why deny the gospel to them?
Middle class and Upper Class
The middle class forms nearly 25% of the Indian population, i.e. 250 million. And the gospel has not been effectively communicated to this chunk of the population. Another 15% may belong to upper classes, and they are yet to hear the gospel in a meaningful and intelligent manner. But, the churches in India still think that the gospel is for the poor only. The middle and upper classes are the educated, articulate, opinion formers, trendsetters and decision‑makers of the society. They Control the economic, social and political power structure of the country. Since these powerful classes have not heard the gospel, there is no transformation for good in this nation.
Bottom‑up or Top‑down?
Not only the oppressed but the oppressors also need to hear the gospel. The present philosophy of gospel presentation seems to be bottom up of the pyramid of social structure. This was reactionary philosophy, since the top people rejected the gospel initially. And this strategy has not worked and has failed to move up. Recently, I met one businessman from Korea. When I enquired about the growth of church in Korea, he said, "The church in Korea is declining. The Christians never entered politics. Secondly, they never ventured into business. Today, the whole economic and political structure are at the hands of people belonging to other faiths. And the church has grown to an optimum level and it cannot grow further." The bottom-up method did not work after a certain level. While bringing justice to society, it is not possible by beginning from the bottom of the hierarchy. This will create social tensions and upheaval in society. This can lead to violence as it happened during the French revolution. The proclamation of the gospel is not to create anarchy and rebellion. Hence, the gospel should be preached simultaneously to all sections of the people. Then the victims and the oppressors are transformed simultaneously.
The background of the book of Ezra is the captivity of the children of Israel. They were captive because they forsook their God. When God wanted to move in their midst, he chose Cyrus, the King of Persia as an instrument (Ezra 1: 1,2). While children of Israel were slaves in Egypt, God chose Moses as redeemer. But in this, God chose, the Persian king and moved his heart. And, that paved the reconstruction of the temple at Jerusalem. Here, God employs top‑down strategy.
Similarly, Esther was in the palace in a position of influence. And Esther was able to save the Israelites from total annihilation by her influence. Even if all Israelites would have been armed and had to fight against the Xerxes, they could not have succeeded. But, Esther was able to accomplish the task very tactfully and strategically.
The Nazareth manifesto calls for radical transformation. The transformation brings relief to the poor, the prisoners, the blind and the oppressed. There are advocates who wish to empower and thus bring transformation and others who wish to transform the oppressors so that they can deal with the oppressed justly. But, the Bible favors transformation of all sections of the people by the gospel.