Release to the Prisoners

prisonYesterday, I quoted Luke 4:18-19 which is one of the scriptures liberation theology is based on. And, if you recall, in “Rethinking Grace” I said if I had to pick a theological system, it would probably be that one. (Now, I’d have throw in a little process theology, too). One of the things that’s bothered me about interpreting the Gospel through that lens is that it isn’t really good news for me. I am a white man in a world that heavily favors white men. How can a message to people who’ve been beaten down and oppressed by the very group I belong to speak to me?  It must though, because it makes sense.

Not long after I quoted Jesus’ initial sermon yesterday, I said the Gospel was relief for people “imprisoned by the choices they’ve made”. As I wrote that, I realized I had pretty narrow interpretation of what being imprisoned meant. Of course, what most of us think about when we hear that word is being a ward of the state, i.e. in jail. But, there are other ways to be imprisoned. We often hear addiction described as a form of captivity. But, what about fear, ignorance and greed? Aren’t they also a form of captivity? To answer that, we have to look at imprisonment.

The 14th century law dictionary, Termes de la Ley, said “Imprisonment is no other thing than the restraint of a man’s liberty…, and in all the places the party so restrained is said to be a prisoner so long as he hath not his liberty freely to go at all times to all places whither he will…” There is some stuff pertaining to legal imprisonment that I cut out, but what’s here is the essence of imprisonment: the restraint of one’s liberty.

So, how do fear, ignorance and greed restrain our liberty? By keeping us from living the life that God desires for us. Someone who turns their home into an armed camp in anticipation of the breakdown of society and never goes anywhere without some sort of weapon for protection is living in a prison of fear. A person who believes that same-sex marriage is a slippery slope that will lead to people marrying animals and inanimate objects or that it will somehow destroy “traditional” marriage is held captive by ignorance. And, anyone who feeds this fear and ignorance to line their own pockets because having most of the wealth is just not enough is imprisoned by greed.

The Gospel means that, like the poor, the blind and the oppressed, we don’t have to live this way anymore. In Matthew, Jesus saysWho among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life?” and “If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you“. In other words, quit fretting, God’s got this.

Understand, however, this message is twofold. It is a relief to those in need, but it is also a call to action for those who have more. It calls us to give freely of our wealth, not jealously guard what we already have. It calls us, as long as we have the means, to make sure our brothers and sisters who have less are cared for. And it calls to do these things because this is the only way out of the self-imposed prisons that hold us.