Always Good News
what was Jesus' message
how was it "good news"?
two versions of the text
NRSV chooses "the good news of God"
raises the questions: what about God, exactly?
alternative is "the good news of the kingdom"
fits with Mark's summary:
"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near (or, "is at hand");
repent, and believe in the good news".
not the Trinitarian God
of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour
of his Cross and Resurrection
as the central drama of salvation
gospel that the Church has spent two thousand years
elaborating from the words, works, death and resurrection
in the Gospel that Jesus preached, far from the Cross taking central place
it does not feature at all
first explicit mention in Mark of the kingdom of God
as the focus of Jesus' thought, mission and expectation
relate to the "wilderness wisdom" of John?
What was the Good News that Jesus preached and where did he first hear it?
God wants us to live. Enjoy life. Live creatively. Live abundantly. Live life to the full. If we pay attention, God will show us how to generate an abundant life for ourselves, and how to share that abundance with others. If we show that we are willing to respond, then God will lead us to those things which are life-giving; which give us life, the more life we need to deal with the problems we face. We will find the source of life, a better life, abundant life. Abundant life which is available to all.
This is the good news, the "secret of the kingdom" that Jesus gave to his disciples, that Jesus still gives to his disciples: that when resources are in short supply, we can work with them to create plenty. There are ways in which we can do this, and we can learn them.
This is the secret which encourages, equips and enables us.
We can follow Jesus' example and use his strategy to make the most of what we have been given. To maximise and magnify what we have "in our hands".
We do this by:
a) receiving/being received/asking/paying attention
b) giving thanks
c) acting as if
This is the "Eucharistic Dynamic" which enables us to be creative, compassionate, courageous and generous.
Encourages us to have faith in ourselves, in our neighbours and in God.
Equips us to use faith and creativity to connect - to find common ground with other human beings in our common search for abundant life.
For this is the challenge, to create abundant life for all. To create the conditions in which everyone can receive the fullness God gives. It is abundance in every sense, which gives abundant life in every sense. The way is not easy. There is hardship, resistance and adversity. But the rewards are immense - faith, hope, love, joy, peace. We learn to do what we want in a manner that gives others what they need. We learn to dream dreams which are good news for everyone.
The Gospel is designed to feed us. God wants to give us the resources we need. They are available, and they are unlimited. The story is the door that gives us access to them. Listening to the story and engaging with it is the key that enables us to open the door and discover the treasure we need.
The Gospels are written to feed us - not with information - but with creative energy. Listening for information - even information about Jesus - gives us useful detail but does not empower us to use it. Listening for process is what feeds us the power.
The Good News is this - God will fill us with creative energy: the energy and creativity that we need for everyday life, for pastoral ministry, and for working as ministers - whether lay or ordained - in any situation. Including the most difficult situations. Especially the most difficult situations. The harder our life, the harsher our context, the more we need creative energy and the more energy - and creativity - we need. It is in these contexts, where our normal resources run out, that the Way comes into its own. It is in these contexts that we need the resources that only the Gospel can supply. We need them for ourselves, for those around us, and for our people.
Jesus' "Way" is a process which allows extremes to meet with discernible, tangible, practical, results. It enables the vision of God's abundant life to engage with our human experience of need. It is effective in all sorts of situations, but what Jesus demonstrates in the Feeding of the Five Thousand is that it is effective even when the need is great and the available resources are few.
Infinite creativity, consenting to work within limits. The process can have a powerful effect, but that effect is not automatic, inevitable or guaranteed. always be borders and boundaries, anxieties and shortages, obstacles and adversaries.
"Look," Jesus is saying, "This is the Good News. God provides a feast of good things. Here, all are welcome. Here, every need is met. This is abundant life for all. This is how the kingdom is realised on earth. And this is how it happens. This is how God feeds you. Even here. Even in a situation like this, where the resources are not enough to meet the demand. I will show you how it works. Watch me. First: receive what God has given you. Take it into your hands. Second: Give thanks. Bless God who has brought you to this moment. Celebrate who you are, what you are, what you have. Pay attention to it all. And then, act as if the vision is true."
Jesus' action is prophetic because it brings together, in a single, simple gesture, the two extremes of God's wealth and our poverty, God's infinite life and our dearth, God's abundance and our hunger. In that sense, his way of breaking the bread symbolises the meaning of the Incarnation: God meets us at the point of our deepest need; living our life, dying our death; experiencing our reality from the inside out. Jesus' action represents this encounter, showing how polarities which are in every other respect separate, contrasting, opposed - even, one might say, in conflict - meet and engage with one another.
In some sense, every action of Jesus represents this "meeting of extremes", but it is the manner in which Jesus broke bread which sums up and symbolises, most precisely, who he was, what he was like, what he did, why he did it and why people followed him. It demonstrates the power and significance of his life for those who knew him, and for those who never knew him but believed in him because they experienced for themselves how his Way altered their perspective, changed their direction, and gave them purpose, promise and peace.
So it is not surprising that this action has come to represent a process which was not only effective then, but which is still effective now; a dynamic which not only met the needs of the multitude then, but can meet a multitude of needs today. The importance of this story lies in the fact that it shows us Jesus using this process. We can see him demonstrating it, showing the crowd - and reminding his disciples - exactly how it works: how the abundant life of God is made real through faith, attitude, prayer and action so that a surge of energy is released. To make something happen. To change a situation for the better. To create something new.
Jesus' action should give us pause. We need a space in which to consider what he did - and how it differs from what we do - how we react when we discover that we are short of the resources we need.
Do we "shoot from the hip" - blaming others, blaming the system, blaming God, blaming ourselves?
Do we take the time to consider a more creative response?
Do we think with our whole selves: not just with our reason, but also with our bodies, hearts, memory, imagination, purpose, direction and spirit?
Do we focus on our hunger, or do we pay attention to the vision of abundant life, the life of God, that is so vast, so rich, so full, so overflowing with good things that it is "Enough for all, enough for each, Enough for evermore?"
Do we allow ourselves to "receive" the givens of the situation, and do we allow complex acceptance and thankful prayer to shape our response?
Does our response spring from trust: from faith in God, one another, and ourselves, or from fear of what "they" might be doing to us, or of what "life" might have in store?
Do we aim for a "whole body" response - loving, generous, creative, resilient, inclusive - so that the blessing is available and accessible to all?
In short: do we use Jesus' "Way" to make a creative response to the shortage?