“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds Christ had done, he sent his disciples to ask a question: ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Go tell John what you hear and see: The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them.'” – Matthew 11:2-5
What is “the gospel”?
A lot of people have a lot of different answers for this question – and I am sure many of them are at least partially correct and/or may contain nuggets of truth (kind of like almost every edible product on the market today carries a label stating “May contain nuts”).
While I would never claim to have THE definitive answer to this question, I do know one thing for sure; if the gospel you’re preaching isn’t good news for the poor, it’s not the gospel.
In the answer to the question of whether or not he was the Messiah – the one to bring salvation – Jesus responds with some very practical “proofs” that he was, in fact, the one who was to come. People with all manner of illnesses are cured, dead people live again, and the poor are given good news.
What I find amusing in our western, consumeristic Christian world is that we would rather not be in one of these groups of people. We would rather believe God wants us, as the richest generation in the richest culture the world has ever seen, to flourish even more. We want to believe that our role is to proclaim “truth” and promote “Christian” moral values and obtain political influence in our nation(s). We want to play a role defining who is in and who is out – and spend much of our time avoiding people we consider outside the boundaries of fine Christian society.
And yet, Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor. He came to live among the outcasts and touch people who were unclean (e.g. lepers).
He never said a good word about riches in his entire ministry and reserved his condemnations for religious people who, for all appearances to any good Jewish person, were living their lives according to what God had explicitly told them to do.
Whatever this “gospel” is, it flips the social order. The poor, destitute, unclean, and outcast are blessed and the religious, rich, powerful, and influential are told they have less chance of entering the Kingdom of Heaven than a camel has of making it through the eye of a needle.
For the poor, this is good news. Their situation has drastically improved with the arrival of Christ — and this is why they flocked to him and why Christianity has always spread like a rising tide on the under-side of power. It is like a bit of yeast that is placed in dough that slowly pervades the entire loaf.
For the rich, the comfortable, the powerful, those in control, the arrival of an alternate kingdom is not such good news. Their riches, comfort, power, and control are being taken away — and who likes that? They are being told that the worst type of person they can imagine will be their equal. In fact, Jesus says these people will enter the kingdom ahead of them …
To me, the gospel is “God with us”! Jesus has come and is making his home here — with us.
His arrival changes the way things are. People are blessed who shouldn’t be and there are no longer distinctions between genders, races, or other such nonsense. All are blessed and he calls each of us to work with him to see that all are treated as if they are blessed and loved by God. The church is invited to be the hands of Jesus that show his blessing to all the world. We are Jesus to the people we encounter on a daily basis.
A church that doesn’t mean good news to the poor, outcast, and “unclean” isn’t proclaiming the gospel. And often that good news will not sound so good to the people in comfort, power, and prosperity … and until I realize that means me, I will not be able to properly proclaim the gospel to my world.
Until my world gets turned upside down and I start to see underneath the sheen of “success” and”profitability”, and instead see people I would rather not interact with as beloved by God and as my equals (or betters) who need to be loved by me, I am still lost.