Weekly Gospel Reflection — The Third Sunday After Epiphany
Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached G‑d’s Good News. “The time promised by G‑d has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of G‑d is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”
One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and followed him.
A little farther up the shore Jesus saw Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat repairing their nets. He called them at once, and they also followed him, leaving their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired men.
What is the gospel? The good news? The εὐαγγέλιον (euangelion [e-van-gel-eon]; that’s the Greek word)? For a while now, this gets asked a lot more than one might think. With the “emergent” movement or “emerging church” — that is, followers of The Way of Jesus who question many of the traditions in Western Christianity and seek to shape their faith through a shared conversation with many voices — the old understanding of the gospel has been called into question.
And rightly so, in my estimation.
For most people the gospel of much of Western Christianity can be summed up like this, “The wages of sin are death and we’ve all sinned against G‑d and our neighbor. Therefore, because G‑d’s eternally righteous and holy, we all must be eternally punished. But, instead of punishing us, G‑d chose to punish someone who’s completely innocent — Jesus, G‑d’s own child! All we have to do is believe that and we’ll be forgiven and saved from G‑d’s wrath. But if we don’t believe that, G‑d will punish us eternally. So, believe in Jesus and we’ll be saved!”
That’s such a huge departure from what Jesus said the gospel was. “The time promised by G‑d has come at last!” Jesus announced. “The Kingdom of G‑d is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark 1.15) According to Jesus, the good news is that the long awaited Realm of G‑d had finally come!
But what does that mean?
Let’s look at it like this. In Jesus’ day, when there was a new Roman Emperor — say, when Tiberius became emperor during Jesus’ life (he was the emperor when Jesus was crucified) — heralds were sent out to proclaim the “good news” (εὐαγγέλιον, it’s the same word). They would arrive in a community and say something like this —
“Greetings! We bring you good news! Tiberius has become the Lord of the world! He’ll bring peace and salvation to the realm! He demands your loyalty and allegiance! Hail Caesar!”
Now notice there’s nothing like, “If you will only believe, Tiberius will save you.” The heralds make a proclamation about something that happened that changed the world — Tiberius was now in charge. It didn’t matter if people believed it or not. That’s the new reality.
It also spoke of things to come. Under Tiberius’ reign, there will be peace and salvation. This meant, of course, that peace and salvation would only come under the Roman sword and taxes. Again, it didn’t matter if one believed it or not. That’s what Tiberius was going to do. He was changing the world as he saw fit.
That’s the same idea we have when Jesus announced the “good news.” So let me say this as plainly as possible:
It doesn’t matter if one believes it or not, the Realm of G‑d has been established. Jesus is the new Ruler of the world. He will restore all of creation.
As St. Paul wrote:
For G‑d was in Christ, reconciling the world to G‑dself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And G‑d gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.
For G‑d in all fullness
was pleased to live in Christ,
and through Christ G‑d reconciled
everything to G‑dself.
G‑d made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.
Somehow, only G‑d knows, the Realm of G‑d was brought into our world through Jesus of Nazareth. At Jesus’ resurrection, that Realm was inaugurated. At the fall of Jerusalem, it was fully established. Since then until now, G‑d’s Realm has been spreading all over creation, slowly changing it; rescuing it. Through people following The Way of Jesus, G‑d’s Realm is fully coming “on earth as in heaven.”
But what does that look like? How’s it being accomplished?
I think we’re given a clue by looking at what Jesus said in Luke’s telling of the story.
When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:
“The Spirit of Yahweh is upon me,
for Yahweh has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
Yahweh has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
and that the time of Yahweh’s favor has come.”
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”
When we see things like the poor being fed and clothed and housed, when they’ve been set free from poverty; when the prison system has been restructured, for-profit prisons dismantled, inmates being treated like people; when the eyes of the blind — emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually — are being opened and people are truly seeing; when the oppressed receive justice; when the 1% truly changes their hearts and minds to act on behalf of the 99%; it’s there, in those places where G‑d’s Realm exists. It’s there, that G‑d’s Realm is expanding.
So, the “good news,” is about something that has happened that changes everything. The call of humanity is to live in that change.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from The Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.