Third Sunday After Epiphany, Year C

What is the Good News?

It’s not been that long since the last time this question came up. December 19th, actually, when we were looking at John’s the Baptist’s call for the people to repent, we discussed this and what it means for God to love us, and every part of us, and would do the unimaginable in order to come to our aid, lathering us with grace and mercy, acceptance and approval? 

In today’s reading from the Gospel, we see Jesus at the synagogue in Nazareth, reading from the prophet Isaiah, and telling those gathered that he had come to bring good news. That THIS is the anointing and the calling that was given to him in his ministry on earth in his lifetime.

So what is Good News? 

The Word in our Greek New Testaments is euangelidzomai, from which we derive the word evangelize and in Old English began to be translated as Gospel. It can be found in the New Testament as a verb, a noun, and, as here, an infinitive – to bring Good News.

Outside of the New Testament, it is used, for example, of a messenger who brings news of victory in battle. It is news that brings joy to those who hear it. So it is no wonder that this is the word the Church picked up on to describe the message of God’s love toward us, especially demonstrated in the writings about the life of Christ. And as it you just saw, that message is so central to what we do and who we are that we have put those words into books, covered them with gold and precious metals, lift it high above our heads, parade it into the midst of the congregation, bow our heads before reading it, and kiss its pages when we’re done. 

This is the message of God’s love for us. And it is an active love, a redeeming love, that reaches across time and space to all of humanity throughout the ages, to redeem us from the curse. 

The question is, how far does that redemption go?

In my first run through seminary, I found myself wondering, how far does God’s redemption go. What is God working to redeem? We know God is working to redeem our souls, and to free us from the power of sin and death, and to give us everlasting life in the world to come. But does God’s redemption stop there?

If it does, then maybe my classmate in college was right, who at lunch after church one Sunday said that if our acts of charity, feeding the hungry or building homes for the unhoused or educating underprivileged children, is not accompanied with a proclamation of God’s forgiveness of sin through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, it shouldn’t be done. Otherwise it amounts to spiritual euthanasia, making someone’s path to eternal damnation more comfortable. 

Great quote, actually, even if I don’t agree. It’s still really clever. 

But I started to wonder if there wasn’t more to the Good News of the love of God, than that by believing in Jesus Christ that we can go to heaven when we die. And I started to believe that God really and truly does care about our station in life, and about our well-being. That God actually cares for the plight of the poor, the captive, the blind, and the oppressed. And not just poor/captive/blind in a metaphorical sense. 

Because certainly these adjectives can be applied to those who are spiritually poor, and spiritually captive, blind and oppressed. The authors of the New Testament wrote about the impoverished state of humanity without Christ, lost and wandering about spiritually, as though they were poor, blind, enslaved to sin, and oppressed. These terms are often used figuratively about those who live without hope for the resurrected life. 

However, If you look further at the teachings of the Scriptures, you will see that God is concerned about much more than just the souls of humanity. God clothes the lilies of the field, and feeds the ravens. God feeds the hungry, heals the sick, casts out the demons, and raises the dead, and told the disciples that they will do even greater things than these. 

In my spiritual journey, my shift on understanding these matters came about because of the movie Hotel Rwanda. The movie tells the story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager whose efforts shielded 1,000 people from dying during the genocide in the mid ’90s. Watching this movie got me thinking, “Is the Good News that by believing in Jesus Christ we will go to heaven when we die?” That is, after all, what my religious upbringing to that point had taught me. But watching that movie, and thinking about the danger that all those people faced during that time, got me to thinking, doesn’t the good news of God’s love also have implications for their lives in this life? Doesn’t the love of God for us mean that God cares for us in this life too?

And of course the answer is yes. The Good News is that God cares about us. God cares about our selves, our souls, and bodies. God cares about our poverty, our blindness, our captivity, and our enslavement. And, as the Body of Christ, calls us to care just like God cares.

God cares for those in need in this life, and calls those who are able to help them, and to raise them to life again.

There is one more quote from Hotel Rwanda that I will share. There is a conversation Mr. Rusesabagina has with a reporter, after seeing footage on television of the violence and genocide, where he says to the reporter that after seeing this broadcast that the world must intervene to stop it. But the American reporter replies, “I think if people see this footage they’ll say, ‘Oh my God, that’s horrible,’ and then go on eating their dinners.”

We’ve become so desensitized to the pain and suffering of others, which we see every day, that we can see tragedies in front of our eyes and not be moved to compassion. We can see pain and suffering each and every day, but in many ways we allow our hearts to become cold to the misery of others. My friends, this ought not to be. But rather, may we, the Body of Christ, have new hearts and new eyes for the poor, the blind, the captive, and the oppressed, and for how we can bring Good News to the world.

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