Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news”(Mark 1: 14-15 NRSV)
The “good news,” the “gospel.” These are terms that will be immediately familiar to anyone who remotely considers themselves any kind of Christian. They’re buzzwords of the highest order. Even if you’re not a Christian, I’d bet that most of you have had, or eventually will have, some earnest, well meaning people knocking on your door wanting to share “the good news” with you.
But what is it, this good news? I mean, really, what are we talking about when we toss these terms around?
I expect that many, if not most of us, Christian or not, can articulate what passes as the “traditional” view of the good news. It goes something like this:
“Jesus was born of a virgin in Bethlehem. When he grew up he wandered around teaching for awhile, then he went to Jerusalem where we was crucified. Three days later he rose from the dead. He took our sin upon himself when he died, so that IF we accept this gift and live by his rules the best we can, THEN we can go to heaven when we die instead of burning in hell for eternity.”
Does that about cover it? I think I can boil it down further into one sentence. “Jesus died and rose again so we can go to heaven instead of hell.”
You don’t want to go to hell, do you? I mean, some people say they do because that’s so REBELLIOUS, so…..METAL!!! ROCK ON!
But no really, when presented with a choice between your own heavenly flat next to streets of gold and eternal conscious torment in a fiery hell, that seems like a no brainer. Being able to be rewarded greatly and avoid hell seems like pretty good news.
And for many, and maybe by many I mean most, Christians, that’s where it stops. The good news of Christ and the Kingdom of God is reduced into a cosmic risk avoidance/reward system. You pray a magic prayer, say you feel bad for your sins, and “invite Jesus into your heart” and you’re golden. You’re set. Your past, present, and future sins are forgiven and you’re in!
Why did Jesus spend time teaching, healing, and helping others if that’s all there was to it? Why didn’t he just march into Jerusalem as soon as he was self aware and say “Here I am, let’s get this over-with?”
If the good news is really all about going to heaven and avoiding hell, why doesn’t the Lord’s Prayer go something like:
“Our Sovereign Judge in heaven,
Your judgement is just and ruthless.
We beg you to take us to heaven and
reward us for believing in you.
Thank you for sending your son so we
don’t go to hell with all the sinners.
That prayer sounds like it would fit very well with the definition that many of us have of the “good news.” Maybe you toss on a couple requests like: “help me not swear so much and please show all those gay people how we’re right and they’re wrong.”
That can’t be it. That cannot be all there is to it. That is the message that I got tired of: “Believe as we do and sign up for your mansion. If you don’t, make your reservations in hell.”
Is it really good news if it really doesn’t do much until you die?
There are so many people in this world who live week by week, day by day, hour by hour, and even minute by minute. While we sit here in front of our computers or on our tablets and smart phones, there are people in our own communities who have no clue where their next meal is coming from or where they’re going to shelter from the elements the next time a storm or cold weather comes along.
Good news that takes place after they die does these people no good.
You, in front of your computer and me as I sit typing, this kind of good news doesn’t do us much good either. The society in which we live tells us exactly what we want, what we need to have to lead our own good, fulfilling lives, and it’s all about us. Advertising, entertainment, news, and politics are always telling us things like:
“If you just buy this product, life will be better.”
“If you go on this fantastic vacation, you’ll feel better about things.”
“You can find relief from your problems in a drug, a bottle, or a meal at a nice restaurant.”
“Get these clothes, and you’ll feel better for wearing the best.”
“Support this sports team and be fulfilled by their accomplishments.”
“Vote for our candidate or our party and we’ll fix everything.”
Those are temporary, transient things at best, and downright lies at worst. All of these things are part of the story, the narrative in which we live, that keeps us spending, accumulating, and even voting. These things land us in a story where we are at the center and what we want for ourselves is paramount, despite any impending consequences of our selfish behavior. In this story the poor get poorer, the middle class often gets poorer, and those who can afford it seek fulfillment of their desires, but in the end they just end up just needing more and more.
This is where I believe that the “good news” of Jesus and the Kingdom of God come into play. It’s not just about some form of eternal immortality it’s about what we can do here, right now, if we choose to live the kind of life that he lived and calls us to when he says “Come, follow me.”
Living like Christ dares to kick a hole in the narrative that says we should live for ourselves and that there will always be poor so we should just move on. The life, death, and resurrection of Christ shows that in the end the powers of war, weapons, and violence don’t have to win. We can live in, and work at, a time where we can see the value in each and every human life and work for the common good, peace, and reconciliation RIGHT NOW.
We don’t have wait. We shouldn’t wait. The Kingdom of God has come near, and we just have to reach up and grab it, to dare to believe that it’s possible to make our lives and the lives of all of our friends and neighbors better right here and right now if we all work together.
There’s more than enough of everything needed in life to go around, if we just choose to try and make it better. Then what happens after we die, who knows?
Jesus asks us to believe that we can make a new creation right here in our world today, that in the final analysis his power and his grace, through each of us, can change the world for the better. He died for that dream. I believe he rose from the dead and ignited a revolution of hope that can change everything if we just grab on tight and follow where he leads.
That, my friends, is the good news. It may seem foolish to have that much hope in this day and age when we’re fed a steady diet of war, violence, anger, hate, and inequity. I choose to defect from that story, follow God’s Own Fool, and dare to believe that there is something better, a better way to live right now, not with myself at the center but with Christ and his Way.
That Way is not always easy, but I do believe it can make a difference, and I invite you to join me on this journey and see what we can accomplish together for ourselves and for everyone in His love, power, and grace.