Last winter, some friends gave me the Lenten guide, Forward to Freedom: From Exodus to Easter, by David Adam, Vicar of Holy Island, Northumberland. The book brought to my attention something I’ve never noticed before in the Exodus story. In Exodus 6, Moses brings a message from God to the people of Israel enslaved in Egypt. God says, “I am the Lord, and I will free you from the burdens of the Egyptians and deliver you from slavery to them. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgement. I will take you as my people, and I will be your God, who has freed you from the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; I will give it to you for a possession. I am the Lord.”
This is amazingly good news! God has come to take them out of slavery and into a promised land to call their own. He is going to draw them into a deep and intimate relationship with himself! But verse 9 says that the people “would not listen to Moses because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.”
We Christians have this amazingly good news from God as well: that He is here to free people from their heavy burdens and deliver them from slavery to the “world”, sin, and self, and bring them into the Kindom of Heaven. He is here to draw them into a deep and intimate relationship with Himself!
When people won’t hear the good news we proclaim, we often respond like a scorned lover and blame them: “They won’t listen because they have some sin they want to hold on to; they are arrogant in their unbelief; they are rebellious against the God who made them and loves them.” It’s true that there are people who reject the good news for these reasons, and there are others who can’t accept the good news because of intellectual or moral difficulties with the message. But It occurred to me that there are many people who cannot hear the good news because of their broken spirit and their cruel slavery.
People’s spirits get broken through the hardships of life and harm received from others. Sadly, some people’s spirits have been broken by Christians and the Church. While modern day slavery is a terrible problem, people are also enslaved to their own sin and others’ sin. People feel trapped by economic systems, debt, illness and addiction. There are people today, especially those who are marginalized, who can’t hear the good news because they can’t even imagine a way out.
God responds to the Israelites’ rejection of the good news by going into battle against Pharaoh and the Egyptian gods who were oppressing the people. He brings the people into freedom even when they can’t even imagine it.
Jesus responds to the broken-hearted by opposing the religious and political leaders that are oppressing the people, and by healing, freeing and embracing the marginalized. He describes his ministry by quoting the prophet Isaiah (Luke 4:18-19 The Message):
God’s Spirit is on me;
he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
recovery of sight to the blind,
to set the burdened and battered free,
to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”
Today, as people who want to proclaim the good news in a way that people can hear and accept, we need to take our cues from Moses and Jesus, not blaming those who are too broken-hearted to hear, but instead working and praying for their healing, freedom, and trust. We need to hear their cry, believe their story, and present a vision of true freedom and healing in the arms of a loving God.