Epiphany 3, Year A
Readings: (Isaiah 9:1–4); Psalm 27:1, 4–9; 1 Corinthians 1:10–18; Matthew 4:12–23
News has become a business. It doesn’t just trickle from person to person, place to place anymore. Media owners can become very, very rich. What sells, apparently, is bad news. People don’t buy papers that say, “There were no big devastating events yesterday,” or “Investigation shows all those leaders you have doubts about are honest.”
Some of us just shut if off. “Enough bad news already. I’d rather be out of the picture than bombarded with those images, events and revelations.” Understandable. Today is about good news, and who we might be bearers of it. I suspect no one will get rich, or titled.
Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, for instance. He addresses a squabble that has broken out there. It seems as if the congregation is splitting into factions. Not the way to go, he says. There are no camps. We’re all in the same camp, no matter who baptized you. And speaking of baptism, he tells them, I didn’t come there to baptize. No, I came to proclaim the gospel. Gospel is from two words in Old English, good, and spel, meaning news, or a story. Goodspel. I came to proclaim the good news, is what Paul is saying.
And then we hear the passage from Matthew for today. In it, we get a glimpse into what makes the news good: Jesus was the one who could teach, preach and cure people. And what was he teaching and preaching? Not the good news of Jesus, the Christ. According to Matthew, it was the good news of the kin-dom, the reign of God.
If we’re going to be bearers, proclaimers of good news, whether it’s about Jesus or the kin-dom, we need to have something to say that is both good, and new. And that seems to be gist of today’s readings. Besides the readings from 1 Corinthians and Matthew, the passage for today from the prophet, Isaiah, is the one quoted by Matthew: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2)
What do we have to say to people that will be important for them because it’s good news? There are two ways to go about this. One is to think up something scary, damnation, let’s say, convince people it’s something they should worry about, and then offer them the cure. There’s still a great deal of that going on. Believing in Jesus Christ as your Saviour is the usual formula cure offered.
The other way to go about it is to find out what is bad news for people, and see if we can do anything, even walking with them in their “deep darkness,” as the bible puts it, if we can’t help change things with them, if we can’t offer a cure. Later on, we’re going to talk about the different things this congregation could do to live out its purpose of building God’s dream in the world.
We will need to be discerning. Listen to the story about the lighthouse. There were many shipwrecks at Cape Point, at the southwestern tip of Africa, near the Cape of Good Hope. A lighthouse was needed. A lighthouse was built up where it should be, on the highest part of the long, tapering promontory, for maximum visibility. There were two problems with that solution. The light was visible too early to ships coming from the Atlantic, fooling them into making their turn to the east too soon. That’s when the light could be seen. It was often shrouded in fog up on its craggy perch. It was the wreck of the Lusitania in 1911 that prompted a reconsideration. Perhaps the light should go where it would do the most good, not where someone decided it should be. So the “new” light is much lower down, and much more effective.
The ideas will be good, exciting. What we don’t know is whether they will sound like good news to anybody else. If only there were some way to find out what other people need at this point in their lives, where we should put the lighthouse, so to speak. Of course there is. We only have one mouth, for proclaiming. We have twice as many ears. My theology professor, Bill Fennell, used to repeat a quote: “nothing is so useless to a person as the answer to a question they hasn't asked yet.”
In other words, we’ll gather in every good idea for ministry, sift and sort to get the ones that seem more likely, but then we’ll do the final step, and find out whether people actually want what we are proposing to offer. Remember the lighthouse.
This is one of the parts we’re missing in the bible, the needs assessment. How did Jesus gather crowds? How did he know what to say? Could it be that when he wasn’t preaching or teaching or curing people, he was paying attention? Did he see young men who used to be able to fish on the Sea of Galilee and now were pushed out of the business by commercialization, Herod Antipas’ drive to finance his big building projects? Did he find people demoralized by changing economic circumstances that were making life more and more precarious? Judging by his parables he noticed that the people who actually grew the crops were frequently hungry while those who owned them did well, and those who controlled Roman legions did exceptionally well.
Jesus responded to people’s needs, the needs he observed all around him. He offered healing without charging for it. He presided over huge meals where food was shared without cost. “The kin-dom of God has come near you,” he would say to them. A challenge to the other kingdom, the one that used brutal violence and the threat of violence to keep most people down, while swathing others in luxury.
How to be the body of this Christ here, now? How to be proclaimers of good news in our time and place? One of the most daring ways is right here on our table. “Come to Jesus’ table,” we might say to people who are hungry, “for food without cost.” We share food and caring every week downstairs, of course. We could be doing more to be faithful, without filling another hamper. We could be asking Jesus-type questions of our economy, our society. Why are so many hungry? Why is a tiny percentage doing so well? Why are we treating workers, and children and the planet like this? Why have oil and dollars become sacred instead of creation and sharing? Why are laws and justice skewed toward those who are already richer than Caesar already richer than Caesar instead of those with little?
This bread and this cup will heal your sense of being alone in the world. It will assure you that you are valued, you are loved. If you have enough to eat at the moment, though, this bread and this cup will not fill with you contentment. Instead, they will give you a righteous anger that the loaf and the cup are not shared with everyone, everywhere. Eating this bread and this cup will make you hungry for real justice, real peace.
The gospel, the table may not be good news for everyone out there. They are challenges to those who already have much and are determined to have more. We eat, and we listen. Who needs light to come? Who needs to here around this table? Who needs us to be on their side? During our short lives we are keepers, stewards of this news. If good news only gets announced in here, inside the church, it’s like building a lighthouse in a fog bank. The light needs to get out. That’s where you come in. You are called to be proclaimers of it: “Extra, extra, hear all about it.”