Jesus reads Isaiah 61 in His first sermon at Nazareth, and says that He fulfills prophets’ promise of an anointed Servant to preach good news to the poor (Luke 4). It is a programmatic sermon for Luke’s gospel, who highlights Jesus’ ministry among the marginal and weak.

In the ensuing exchange with the people of Nazareth, Jesus refers to Elijah’s ministry to the widow of Zarephath and Elisha’s cleansing of Naaman. Apparently the mission to the poor encompasses ministry to the Gentiles, who do not enjoy the riches of Israel.

Once we get that clear, then Luke 4 becomes a programmatic sermon for Acts as well. What Jesus began to do and teach among the poor is found in Luke; how Jesus continued to preach good news to the poor is the story of Acts. The accent shifts from the poor within Israel to poor Gentiles.

But the shift is not absolute. The church of Acts, filled with the same Spirit as the Servant of Yahweh, also ministers to the poor. Filled with the Spirit, they form a koinonia not only of spiritual gifts but of material goods. They sell their homes to provide for the needy, until there is no needy among them (Acts 434). When needy people respond to the gospel and are baptized into the community of believers, their material needs are met. Good news to the poor is not only a message; it is the very form of the church’s common life.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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