Monday in the 22nd Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Memorial of St. Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church
The Poverty that Accepts Good News
Readings: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Psalms 96:1 and 3, 4-5, 11-12, 13; Luke 4:16-30
Do you want the good news first or the bad news? We’ve probably heard this question being asked either of us or of others. Whichever way it’s answered the obvious implication is that it’s easier to receive the good news than the bad. The only question is whether you wish to do the easy thing first or the difficult. But is it really that easy to accept good news? Not if today’s readings are anything to go by.
We notice that words of consolation are spoken in both readings. To the Thessalonians, Paul shares an insight into the glorious fate that awaits all those who have died in Jesus. So that instead of despairing, those left behind should comfort one another with the thought that they will all finally be reunited and will stay with the lord forever. Likewise, to the Nazarenes in the gospel, Jesus proclaims a moving passage from the prophet Isaiah (61:1ff.), one that offers good news to the poor, news of how God will free all from the bondage of sin and death, news of the Lord’s year of favour, when God will forgive all and accept all into God’s kingdom. And this proclamation comes to its climax when, after the reading, Jesus says: this text is being fulfilled today…
We don’t know for sure how Paul’s message was received. But the gospel makes it clear that Jesus’ words infuriated his listeners so much that they actually tried to kill him. Why was it so difficult for the Nazarenes to receive Jesus’ message, to accept the good news of God’s acceptance of them? Obviously, Jesus’ familiarity seems to have presented a problem. Could such an ordinary person, whose background they all knew, really be God’s messenger? Even so, it does seem that the Nazarenes would probably still have accepted Jesus if he had chosen to play by their rules, if he had spoken only about things that they wished to hear. But Jesus did otherwise. He chose instead to scandalize his listeners by speaking of a God who accepts all, Jew and Gentile alike. No special treatment for the people of Israel, let alone for the fellow townsfolk of Jesus. Aren’t these the things that made the good news so difficult to accept? Not only was the messenger too ordinary, but the scope of the message itself was also too shockingly wide to be true.
Is it any easier for us to accept the good news of Christ? Not just the good news of what God has done for us in the past or will do in the future, but also especially what God is doing today? Don’t God’s chosen messengers often seem too ordinary to be authentic? And isn’t the message of God’s merciful and compassionate acceptance of all people often too radical to accept? Could God really welcome that problematic relative, or that unreasonable boss? To receive such good news is hard. For it necessitates that we learn to accept not only the sinfulness of others, but also our own. It requires that we be ready to revise our opinions, surrender our prejudices. It means that we have to learn, in some sense, to be poor. For it is to such as these that the good news is addressed.
Which do you prefer, the good news or the bad?