In Luke 4, Jesus reads in Nazareth’s synagogue from what we call chapter 61 of Isaiah. He affirms that the reading reveals his mission, that his presence and his ministry fulfills the words of the prophet. Jesus says,
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19)
The passage in Isaiah continues with these words: And provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair…” (Isaiah 61:3a). It’s clear that Jesus as God’s Messiah (Christ) has a mission to transform grieving and despair into joy, hope, and praise. That mission becomes ours when we confess faith in Jesus and promise to obey him.
October has been Domestic Violence Awareness Month in the United States. Articles like this one have drawn attention to the scope of violence within families. Much attention rightly is given to the plight of victimized women and children who, when they try to escape, encounter dark futures in shelters, poverty, and untimely death. The article cited notes that eighty-five percent of victims are women and ninety percent of perpetrators are men. What many overlook is that a significant percentage of victims are male and that the abusive spouse or parent or child less frequently but still often is female. A movie title about the phenomenon from the 1990s captured a chilling aspect with its title, “Men Don’t Tell.” In other words, male victims of spousal abuse are less likely to report, and when they do report, are more likely to be ignored or even ridiculed. Both male and female victims experience physical and emotional trauma that will resonate for years afterward. People who mean well may strongly encourage them to return to their abuser. The victim is asked, sometimes years later, to recount the most ghastly and traumatic moments of his or her life. When the aftermath in a marriage leads to divorce, and the victim is a minister, some church leaders consider themselves doing the will of God if they conduct a hostile interrogation, and question the minister’s qualification to serve if the victim does not want to talk about it. On the other hand, when a leader is the perpetrator, other leaders may seek to excuse or forgive the behavior quickly, allowing an abuser to lead in the presence of traumatized people. Victims of domestic violence need hope, safety, protection, and encouragement. The mission of Jesus and his Church aligns precisely with those needs. It gets more complex when the offender seeks help, too. Forgiveness does not require trust or restitution. The final verses of the biblical book of Jude neatly summarize what those encounter who seek to help the offender overcome his sin: “to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh (Jude 23).”
Christians, like Jesus, have been commissioned to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners of trauma and sin, to set the oppressed free. We pray for healing of physical and emotional wounds. We pray that we will have patience as we try to help people who fear to seek help or who still love the person who is hurting them so badly. We pray for safety and for people to treat their own family members with love. We pray that we will execute the mission as Jesus would have – with love and healing care.
O God who protects the vulnerable, we tremble when we contemplate the choices that victims of family violence have to make to protect themselves. We shake with anger that women and men cower while being assaulted, hide to escape the wrath of a spouse, conceal their wounds while they try to understand what is happening to them. Helping people who are hurting and ashamed even they are the ones being battered is hard. Give us patience, love, and understanding. Open the eyes and ears of social workers, ministers, elders, and police officers, so that they may save the victim rather than justify or even assist the abuser. Protect victims; give them courage to seek help. Bring to repentance those who think they must re-open the wounds of the traumatized. May we see clearly the path that Jesus, our pioneer, has blazed for us and follow it faithfully. In Jesus’ name, amen.