Our Mission Is Christ's: Preach the Gospel
Look carefully at today’s reading. This tells us a huge amount of Jesus’ mission. Remember, I took a course in Biblical Archaeology at Harvard Divinity School so let us dig deep into what this reading is telling us. Every letter can tell us a lot.
First notice the focus on the reading is Jesus’ healing, including Peter’s mother-in-law. We do not see much in the line of similar healing from the Old Testament prophets. We see preaching and even one rooted in speaking to the movers and shakers of the land.
Ezekiel’s message was not to the poor, it was to the religious and political leaders. Elijah helped the poor widow but he confronted and cursed the king and the queen.
Here we see something different, we see Jesus coming and not only healing but healing the poor. He is gathering the people to him in a way that is raising the concern of the powerful.
The prophets tried to change the direction of the country warning the leaders if they did not repent then the whole country would be conquered and disciplined. Jesus tells them that the Kingdom of God is in their midst and begins with the powerless, the poor and sick and possessed.
What is he doing through healing? He is demonstrating the power of the Kingdom of God in their midst. If you represent the powerful either politically like Herod or religiously like Sanhedrin what are you going to make of Jesus? He is not only preaching the Gospel to the people who are listening most of whom are powerless who when they gather together they become powerful. Jesus is simply teaching the Kingdom of God but the political and religious leaders are being challenged to also give up their own power that God’s kingdom may grow among the people.
Jesus also warns that if they do not then they will lose everything and it will be given to another which we understand are those to whom he is preaching and who embrace his message.
Notice something else, where does Jesus draw his strength—his prayer. Jesus was completely obedient to the Father. In fact, he said nothing that the Father did not want him to say and everything he said and did was what the Father wanted him to do. So he prays every morning so that he may be the work the father sent him to do and that work was to proclaim the kingdom of God.
The prophets predicted that this moment was coming and now it has arrived. The powerful do not recognize it and the poor embrace it. The powerful decide that the poor must be wrong because they are uneducated and simple. The poor are also docile to grace; the powerful are not and so they are growing in the wisdom that the powerful do not have. So we are watching the power dynamics happening and this sets the stage for everything that happens. Now notice something else. How should we respond to Jesus—by being docile to grace and acting on his word. How should the Church respond to Jesus—by preaching the Gospel. We need to teach all to see the Kingdom of God in their midst and to seek the Holy Spirit who is dwelling within them.
What happens when we do that? We become obedient to the Father and we challenge those authorities that use their political and religious power for their own gain at the detriment of the people. What happens when we do not preach the gospel as Church? Another authority will preach its kingdom and its power and it will not be God’s kingdom. Is there an example of this in the world today? Was it God’s will that people invade the capitol building? Not at all.
What is God’s will for us? that we proclaim the message that the Kingdom of God is in our midst. Our role is to proclaim that message and it is the people you and I who must preach by our lives. If we are not preaching the message of the Gospel then we are opening a door for another message that will not lead people to Christ. Remember, we cannot do that if we do not pray, but if we do pray then we can preach the Gospel in powerful ways.
Lent begins in about ten days, now is a good time for us to start planning a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving with the intention of strengthening our witness to the Gospel. We witness not with political programs or bonking people over the head with bibles, but with prayer that we may be docile to grace, so that we may deliver the message that Christ wants us to deliver of the Kingdom of God in our midst. We cannot do that if we are not docile to grace and open to the grace of the Holy Spirit strengthening our witness.
We can miss the point if we simply dismiss Jesus as savior. Jesus despite being fully human and fully divine drew his strength from his prayer. Now is a good time for us to come up with a plan of prayer that will allow us to grow strong in the Lord. We can build plans of prayer and self-denying as well as almsgiving that lead us not just to do good things but empower us to draw our strength from the Lord. We always have a call to respond to our healthy sense of sin and turn from sin. Sin is doing what is not God’s will in our lives. However, if we focus on sin alone and do not imitate Christ in drawing our strength from the Lord, we miss the point. Unfortunately, that is a common problem in American Catholicism.
If we imitate Christ in his prayer, we will grow strong in our ability to preach the Gospel by our actions and our words and that is something this country needs right now desperately.