I can remember, as a teenager, contemplating this gospel lesson and being a little confused. It says, After Jesus came out of the temptations in the wilderness, he came to Galilee, “proclaiming the gospel of God.”
The gospel of God.
My question was this – when Jesus came on the scene, did he immediately start telling people that he was going to die in place of everyone else so they could go to heaven?
You see, in Sunday school and confirmation classes, I’d been taught the holy gospel was that God sent His Son to bleed and die on a cross because this was payment for the sins of the whole world. (Well, at least it paid for the sins of the few who were going to the right Christian denomination.) I was a Lutheran preacher’s kid, so I’m pretty sure I didn’t misunderstand the gospel – God in His grace sacrificed his only begotten Son, Jesus, for us and then raised him from the grave to show us we’d be raised, too.
My question as a teenager was – is this the “gospel of God” Jesus started preaching at the beginning of his ministry? Or did Jesus have another gospel?
Today I know that Mark’s Gospel has Jesus telling his disciples in secret what was going to happen to him in Jerusalem…not in public settings.
Then I found ten other places in the Gospels and letters of St. Paul that spoke about “the gospel of God.” What the heck was “the gospel of God “Jesus was spreading?
The Gospel of John says Jesus told his disciples, “If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I” (John 14:28). Most translations of the Bible say ‘greater.’ And I asked: Why should the disciples rejoice that Jesus is leaving them to be with his great Father? They loved him. They didn’t want him to leave. Then I found out the Greek word for ‘greater’ can also be translated as “more wonderful.”
“If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is more wonderful than I.”
Now that’s the kind of good news, or gospel, I could take to the bank. Our God is more wonderful than his only-begotten Son, Jesus! (In spite of the fact that the Old Testament claims otherwise.)
I believe this was Jesus’s message about good news of God. He, like Martin Luther was for the Roman Catholic church, was trying to reform Judaism. It’s why he told the Pharisees (the people who knew the Scriptures backward and forward) he told them again and again, “You don’t know God.” He also told his disciples, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” How can you misunderstand this?
St. Paul tried to teach about the goodness of God. He said, “Do you despise the riches of [God’s] goodness, patience, and tolerance, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? (Rom. 2:4). The goodness of God, not the fear of God, is what leads people to change their lives. A person needs to receive and absorb the energy of God’s mercy and goodness and grace before they will change. That can only come from you and me. People have to receive love before they can give it away to others.
If someone has not received and felt the goodness and love of God, it doesn’t work to say to them, “The Bible says you have to love God, love your enemy, love your neighbor, and love one another…and believe our denomination’s opinion about what God wants. Then you’ll have a good afterlife.”
That good news is not working anymore. Because that’s not good news.
The opening to the Gospel of John says, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son…who has made Him known” (1:18). Four times, the gospel of John tells us that Jesus said “If you have seen Me, you have seen the heavenly Father” (8:19; 12:45; 14:7; 14:9b). This is the good news of God! The Father is more wonderful than Jesus. That’s the message you and I need to be spreading…because we are the church.
The world needs to see Christians who are kind, Christians who are willing to stop and make them feel loved. They need to see Christians in whom the Holy Spirit brings the comforting presence of Jesus to others. They need to see Christ in you and in me! That’s what it means to be a Christian. Once they have experienced the goodness and love of God through us, we stand a chance of making our world a better place.