A Birdseye View of the Good News
Sunday January 23, 2022
by Fr. David M. Knight
Third Sunday of Ordinary Time
In Nehemiah 8:2-10 we get some idea of how much it meant to the Jews to be given laws to live by that came from God himself. Imagine what life on earth would be like without them. Suppose we knew, as every normal human person, nation and culture has known for the millions of years of human existence all over the earth, that the universe owes its existence to some awesome Being, but did not know for sure what that Being expects of us. Would that cause us concern? Suppose we valued life as a precious gift but were left to figure out for ourselves how to get the most out of it. Suppose there were no “operator’s manual” or “instructions on the bottle” from the manufacturer. Where would that leave us?
In this context, we can appreciate the exclamation of the Responsorial Psalm (19: 8-15): “Your words, Lord, are spirit and life.” If Jesus takes us beyond the revelation of the Law, how great must the Good News be?
“Fulfilled in your hearing”
In Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21, Jesus gives an outline of the Good News that was embodied in his person.
1. “To bring good news to the poor”: The Good News for our being is the gift of grace. “In Christ” we receive the gift of divine life. The substance of the Good News was summed up by Paul: it is “is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Because we died in him and rose in him, our sins are annihilated and we have become a “new creation.” “In Christ” we are children of the Father and temples of the Spirit, endowed with the “righteousness of God” himself (2Corinthians 5:17-21). By Baptism we “became Christ.” We are sent and empowered to “save” and lift up everything in the world that has veered off to destructiveness, distortion, mediocrity or meaninglessness. The Messiah is alive and active in us.
2. “To proclaim liberty to captives”: The Good News for our intellect is the gift of faith. Our minds have been taken captive by false worldviews, schools of thought, and historical distortions. Our culture has left us confined in a “low-ceiling world,” walled off from seeing the full dimensions of God’s being, truth and goodness, and of our human dignity and destiny. Jesus promises “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). He invites those who “sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79) to come out and be his disciples.
3. “Recovery of sight to the blind”: This is Good News for our power of perception — and by extension, of memory. Spiritual blindness is not an intellectual problem, nor something imposed from outside of us. It is an interior hardness of heart, an unwillingness even to look at truth. The worst blindness is that of the Pharisees in every age, who find their security in blind obedience to the law. With a chosen tunnel vision they absolve themselves from the risk and responsibility of looking at the goal of the law and making personal decisions about how to achieve the goal in particular situations. Jesus frees us from this spiritual handicap by calling us to focus on bearing witness to his values. This necessarily takes us beyond mere law-observance and opens us to new and creative insights into ways of living the Gospel more authentically. This is the gift and meaning of our baptismal consecration as prophets.
4. “To let the oppressed go free”: The Good News for our will is the gift of love. Until Jesus came the only escape from oppression was through violence fired by hatred. Jesus taught us to resist, but nonviolently: to “endure evil with love” by accepting whatever cross the sin of the world happens to drop on our shoulders and “loving back,” relying on no power but truth and love. We are to love our enemies and minister to them, even to sacrificing our lives. The call to ministry also brings us out of the self-imposed prison of selfishness that confines us within the narrowness of self-interest. By our baptismal consecration as “priests in the Priest” we are launched on the way of Jesus, Victim and Priest, to give our “flesh for the life of the world.
5. “To announce a year of favor from the Lord”: The Good News for the meaning in life we seek through activity is the gift of hope. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15). Jesus is alluding to the jubilee year in Judaism, when debts were cancelled, land and possessions returned to their original owners, and slaves were freed. God commanded this first as Creator: “The land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.” By creation humans are only God’s stewards, charged to take care of his creation (Genesis 1:26-28). God also speaks as God of the Covenant: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan…. [Any slaves you have] are my servants…. You shall not rule over them with harshness, but shall fear your God….They and their children with them shall go free in the jubilee year” (Leviticus 25:8-55). Jesus is saying that the “reign of God” has begun, and the Good News is that we are consecrated by Baptism to bring about peace and justice on earth as “kings,” or stewards of his kingship.
That is the Good News that Jesus announced and wants to continue announcing with us, in us and through us until he comes again.
Who We Are:
In 1Corinthians 12: 12-30 Paul is keeping his focus on the central theme of all of his writings: “the mystery hidden throughout the ages but now revealed to his saints…. this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:26). That, for Paul, is the Good News in a nutshell. And because of it. he says, there should be “no dissension within the body,” no jealousy, no special preferences, but “all the members should have the same care for one another.” There are all sorts of different gifts, functions. ministries and roles in the body of Christ, but none is “higher” or “lower,” because they are all functions of the same body and the body is a single whole. So “if one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all share its joy.” John Donne’s poem “No Man is an Island” captures it:
No man is an island entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as any manner of thy friends or of thine own were.
Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
The Good News is that no one has any special dignity. There is only one dignity, the dignity of the Body of Christ, and all share in it equally. Nor can we be indifferent to anyone’s pain. All pain is the pain of all. “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” If we truly live this out, we will evangelize the world!
Prayer: Talk to God about these ideas: If someone asked you, “What, in a nutshell, is the Good News?” what would you say? Suppose we put it differently: “What is so good about being a Christian?” Do you have a ready answer? Have you ever thought about it? Do you see the value of condensing the Good News into a few clear and memorable gifts, promises and commitments?