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Good News, Bad News

Mission and Ministry Service
Old Mystic, October 25, 2009

Summary

Jesus’ message at the synagogue in Nazareth is a call to his followers to join him in a mission that is focused on transforming structures and human systems by meeting the needs of the people—material, spiritual, relational, and emotional needs. And the less fortunate are on top of the list!

Sermon

How many times have we heard someone telling us, “I have good news and bad news; which one do you want to hear first?” Honestly, I always want to hear the bad news first in the hope that the good ones will outweigh the bad. And I’m very often disappointed, because eve when what it is presented as not so good is actually bearable, the apparent good news does not make a big difference. Real good news, the type of announcement that everyone wants to hear, comes loud and clear. So do bad news. When we saw and hear through the media the attacks of 9/11, there was no good news that could counterweigh the horrendous scenes of death and destruction.

When we look at the passage of what some call Jesus’ “Inaugural Address” at the synagogue in Nazareth, his home town, we are blessed with good news. And Jesus calls his message good news—the gospel. Good news for the poor, the captive, the oppressed, and the sick. In fact, it is very good news for his Jewish audience! It is the announcement that the Great Day of the Lord is at hand. The year of the jubilee or, as Jesus put it, “the year of the Lord’s favor.” It means that the Messiah, the long expected king, the one who brings a new order, the one who has come to establish God’s kingdom of love, peace, and justice has arrived. The beginning of a process of peace has begun. The promise of the prophet Isaiah is at hand, “His authority shall grow continually and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and His kingdom.”

But the good news was not so good for the folks in Jesus’ home town. Questions arose. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” After, all this was only the son of the carpenter. How could he possibly be the long awaited king? On top of that, Jesus’ suggestion of him being a rejected prophet among his own—and consequently, an evidence of their lack of faith, filled them with rage. To the point that they wanted to throw Jesus off the cliff.

The gospel is good news, though it won’t be perceived or received as such by many. The proclamation of the good news has two sides: to announce and to denounce. Let us first look at the negative side; the message that unveils all that is wrong with the world, its structures, and human behavior. Many will react and ask, “Haven’t we heard enough about what is wrong with us?” “We are tired of hearing the negative.” And indeed, we have heard many messages about the human condition and the reality of personal sin. But we have also heard that Jesus is called “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” We have learned that, “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” We can surrender to God’s love who sent his son and be forgiven, renewed, transformed, and given a purpose.

But the implicit denouncing in Jesus’ message of salvation and liberation does not stop with the promise of individual private salvation from sin and condemnation, and life eternal in paradise. It is not just a promise that everything is going to be all right when we all go the heaven. Salvation is not a ticket to a better place in the future. Salvation has already begun here and it is a process of transformation of the totality of human reality. And that means the private and the public spheres of life; changing hearts, homes, men and women, and also structures, governments, and economic, social, and political systems.

Jesus’ contemporaries were outraged because the son of one of their own, the son of Joseph the carpenter was telling them that there were poor among them, some were captive—probably unjustly, some were oppressed—perhaps many, and others were blind. And he was telling them that the Messiah had arrived not just to rock the boat in town, but to bring a cataclysmic change to the nation of Israel and beyond. For that reason they wanted to get rid of such a charlatan! Is the gospel today denouncing what needs to be changed? It indeed is and that may be disturbing for many.

The good news is that change is possible. This is the other side of the coin, the side we want to hear, the side of hope. It is not reducing the gospel to social transformation though such a thing is so substantial to human welfare. Every time we are reminded that nearly half of the population of the world survives on less than two dollars a day, we are reminded that good news, real good news for those people—and for anyone keen to the gospel of Jesus Christ—is that social, economic, and political transformation need to happen. Jesus reminded his audience of the year of the Jubilee which, according to the Leviticus’ code, was the year of God’s “leveling of the playing field;” land returned to the original owners and to a fair distribution; slaves freed; debts condoned; the Sabbath of the earth, and the celebration of God’s peace. Do we realize how much the world needs a more fair distribution of resources? And the liberation of people who are still slaves even in the 21st century? What about the oppression of debt? And how many are “canned” in prisons with little or no evidence of any guilt?

Jesus is good news though it may not seem so good for many. And Jesus was in Nazareth to recruit his fellow town dwellers. And this is a message about recruitment. God needs people to get involved! You may choose to become active in social action, or in politics, or volunteering in non-government associations or nonprofit social agencies. But remember that the oldest of all of God’s agencies continues to be the church; God’s local community; the community of the believers—in Christ and in change. Christ wants us to reach out and touch someone and that “touch” needed it is not just spiritual. Jesus was telling the whole world through that quote of the prophet Isaiah that almost anything good that we do by word and deed would contribute to make the gospel true.

And his message was about people; loving, serving, caring for, and meeting the needs of people. And this implies also advocating to change the conditions that bring suffering to people. We all know that this is a monumental task and we know the risks. Jesus was almost thrown off the Cliff at the beginning of his ministry and he ended up nailed to the cross only three years later. Yet, the victory of the resurrection signals that the building of the kingdom is a reality. If death can be overcome, sooner or later, in the end, all that enslaves human beings, even death, will be over.

For that reason, people need the gospel! They need not just the message; they need to experience the gospel through the love of their neighbors. They need to be brought into the community of God’s people—a community that cares for their needs, that embraces them regardless of who they are, a community of friends always looking for new friends to come into the loving arms of Jesus.

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