When the Good News Isn’t
Jesus waded ashore into the muddy banks of humanity in an age ruled by a religious order who justified their spiritual authority by their meticulous obeisance to their self-serving interpretations of ritual law and unyielding judgment of their followers, an economic system that thrived on the backs of poor men, women, and children traded and sold as commodities by the rich and powerful, and a social hierarchy that only saw one class of people, Roman citizens, as deserving of basic human rights—to proclaim good news.
What exactly is good news to this kind of world? Is it Good News of a revolution or just a tweaking of the status quo?
Jesus clearly spoke in terms of revolution:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty. Luke 1
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3
Jesus demonstrated a message of love, acceptance, inclusion and mercy to everyone he met women, tax collectors, children, foreigners, the exiled, the oppressed and the most vulnerable.
The only exception to his magnanimity were the self-righteous and the rich and powerful who sought to protect their power and influence by quashing his revolution.
23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.” Matt. 23
Fast forward 2000 years and unfortunately I see a church that mostly preaches good news that calls for a tweaking of the status quo, the taming of the flesh over the foolishness of full-scale revolution and personal transformation. Hey guys, let’s be better!
This is the good news of the status quo: God doesn’t really hate humans using their obeisance to spiritual laws to justify themselves as long as it is New Testament law because humans have to have laws especially spiritual laws or else it would be a free for all and a slippery slope to evil led by liberals, women and gays.
This is the good news of the status quo: God doesn’t really hate the inequality of the economic order so much as he hates those who dishonestly and unfairly rose to the top but he wants to bless/reward those who have risen to the top or have been born at or near the top who stay at the top with their honest hard work and self-discipline with even more so they can inspire and give charitably to those who are not as fortunate or didn’t work as hard or who are not as self-disciplined.
This is the good news of the status quo: God really does love everybody but duly elected democratic, free market, christian nations have a right to protect their rights, privileges and resources from foreigners who threaten to dilute the purity and power of the founding majority.
This is the good news of the status quo: God loves ritual sacrifice over mercy and so as long as we appease his anger for sin we are exempt from fighting against injustice or speaking for the voiceless because Jesus will take care of it all in the end when he blows up the world and raptures the church.
This is roughly the Good News most 21st Century Western Christians preach—but who is it good news for? It is affirmation for those already on top but definitely not for those on the bottom.
The Good News is as it has always been. Jesus calls to each of us with open arms saying, “I love you and I am with you and for you.”
‘Follow me and I will take the shame and guilt of your sin and selfishness and give you forgiveness, acceptance, dignity, worth and freedom to enjoy being my child and love others” “I will show you the Way of Mercy.” “I will show you how to be loved and how to love unconditionally.”
That kind of love transforms us. It is patient, it is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. It does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. It never fails.
Good news by its very nature is incongruous with inequality, bigotry, hatred, exclusion and oppression.
20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, John 3
The followers of Jesus, the church, imperfect as it is, must be a model to the world of good news not old news wrapped in spirituality that normalizes all of our sinful tendencies. This means that we will acknowledge our differences in gender, race, education, resources, traditions, and sexual preferences and use them as mortar to bind us not walls to separate us.
This also means that we will practice equality not charity. Everyone has something valuable to give and receive from each other. We give and share out of humility not pride. Consequently, men and women are honored as equals in every way and encouraged to use all their gifts and talents for the benefit of one another, children are celebrated and encouraged to take part in all aspects of community life. We don’t reach out to the unfortunate to condescendingly give charity but we recognize that we all belong to one another and we share what we have with everybody as equals and friends. We don’t feed the poor, or clothe the naked we invite all our neighbors to our table and home to share our possessions.
14 “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Eph. 2
Good news requires us to teach people how to relate personally to God not just use our narrow interpretations of the New Testament as immutable, absolute law and call it a relationship. The holy scriptures are meant to be a means of hearing the voice of God through dialog, prayer, solitude, silence and fasting by the followers of Jesus in community together in every age. They are more description of that relational process of the early church than prescription for the church of every age. The good news is that if we seek God’s to show us how to be merciful he will answer. Our wielding of scripture must produce mercy not sacrifice. Mercy nurtures inclusion—sacrifice exclusion.
Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matt. 9
Good news has to be a revolution or it isn’t good news at all—it’s just a blessing of the oppressive status quo. You can’t free the oppressed without confronting the oppressor. You can’t be generous to the poor without enraging the greedy. You can’t welcome the sinner without traumatizing the self-righteous.
It’s really not that complicated. The difference between mercy(grace) and sacrifice(self-righteousness) is usually clear, the difficulty is not the distinction but the cost, i.e. should we separate immigrant children from their parents and put them in cages? Mercy dictates absolutely not. Sacrifice argues, “I made it hear legally everybody else must also.” Mercy is inclusive, generous and hospitable, sacrifice is exclusive, prideful, distrustful of others and greedy. You can apply the lens of mercy over sacrifice to all issues that confront us and you will see that what is merciful is clear but it is always deemed too costly.
3 Don’t do anything only to get ahead. Don’t do it because you are proud. Instead, be humble. Value others more than yourselves. 4 None of you should look out just for your own good. Each of you should also look out for the good of others.
5 As you deal with one another, you should think and act as Jesus did.
6 In his very nature he was God.
Jesus was equal with God. But Jesus didn’t take advantage of that fact.
7 Instead, he made himself nothing.
He did this by taking on the nature of a servant.
He was made just like human beings.
8 He appeared as a man.
He was humble and obeyed God completely.
He did this even though it led to his death.
Even worse, he died on a cross! Philippians 2
This pandemic has stripped away any pretenses of equality, fairness, and mercy in our healthcare, economic, political and spiritual institutions and shown us what mercy compels us to value. The church must be a shining example to the world of what mercy, compassion, equality, and celebration of human dignity can look like in community. We can no longer be a mirror image of a corrupt world in an ornate frame. Let us be what Jesus has given his life and his Spirit for us to be—the will of God on earth as it is in heaven.
The Good News always requires a revolution, a revolution of inclusion, humility, selflessness, generosity, hospitality, kindness, forgiveness, patience and mercy. Are we willing to pay the price of revolution or are we content to justify our self-indulgence by tweaking the status quo?
Woe to the preachers of the status quo.
Blessed are the feet of those who bring good news of revolution.