Good News for the Poor

Dr Byron Smith explores how Jesus coming into our common home is good news for the poor.


For our eighteenth Advent 2023 devotional, Dr Byron Smith explores how Jesus coming into our common home is good news for the poor, asking: Does the Gospel give shelter to the unhoused, nourishment to the hungry and relief to the exploited? Or simply solace to the sinner and consolation to the complicit?

Good News for the Poor


When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’

Luke 4:16-21



As a younger Christian, I was taught to read this kind of passage “spiritually”, that is, as referring to my relationship with God without reference to the material conditions of people’s lives or the broader patterns of power in society. So Jesus brings good news to the poor because we are all spiritually poor, no matter how much money we each might have in our pocket, bank account, or stock market portfolio. There's no billionaire who can purchase any of the priceless treasures God freely gives: our very lives; God's accepting embrace and delight; forgiveness for our failures and follies; the Holy Spirit’s presence and power; the promise of a share in God's wonderful future. All these are gifts of sheer divine grace, which are ours not from any grand accomplishment, rigorous purity or intellectual insight on our part, but purely a result of the overflowing goodness at the core of God's being.

The relentless generosity of our Creator is indeed wonderfully good news, doubly so when we consider our own many imperfections and misdeeds.

But is this what Jesus meant when he quoted the prophet Isaiah and claimed to be divinely anointed to “bring good news to the poor”? Are the ‘captives’, the ‘oppressed’, the ‘blind’ also purely metaphors for the way our unbelief leaves us bound, brutalised, and blocked from understanding?

Reading it this way would be a big relief for those who benefit the most from the status quo. In our world, millions go hungry while surplus food is left to rot, because this helps the profits of major shareholders. Millions lack stable accommodation while the wealthy accumulate empty houses, or charge eye-watering rents. Millions flee, or get trapped without escape, from violence that benefits the few. Millions suffer discrimination, disabling conditions, disease and early death, while efforts to address these injustices are met with hostility and disinformation lest the dominant stories and systems of power actually change. Earth itself, our common home, is choked with dirty air, its limited fresh water hoarded, its oceans and soils contaminated with trillions of toxic flecks, its wondrous diversity of weird living beauties hunted, logged, bleached, starved, and poisoned, all largely to inflate corporate bottom lines.

In such a world, does Jesus hold out cheap absolution for the pious plunderers while telling the hungry that their real poverty is spiritual? Is that good news for the poor?

In Luke 4, Jesus’ audience are so enraged at Jesus’ teaching that they seek to murder him. It is clear that part of their anger comes from Jesus’ radical inclusivity. The good news he brings isn’t just for the pious few found within the worshipping community, but insofar as they self-righteously police the borders of God’s favour, is actually for their enemies and those they exclude.

This Advent, if we are to follow this man born into poverty amongst an oppressed people under constant threat from a much stronger military power, a man who was killed for the sins of others, then perhaps the spiritually-enriching good news he brings might have quite concrete consequences for how we relate to the impoverished and oppressed, those living under constant threat from stronger power, and those who today are killed in their many thousands for the sins of others.



Dr Byron Smith is an ecological ethicist helping churches join the dots between caring for our common home and Christian discipleship. He has a PhD in theological ethics exploring our emotional responses to climate disruption and their relation to Christian identity and discipleship.



This devotional is the eighteenth in a series of daily email devotionals for Advent 2023. This year's series reflects on the longing, hope, and beauty of God’s ‘Common Home’ being realised, revealed, and renewed through the birth of Jesus.

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Advent: Common Home