This time of year, between Christmas and Lent, the gospels show us Jesus ‘going public’. There’s excitement in the air. He has good news: cripples are healed, the blind see, the sick and the great unwashed are given new hope and something better to live for.
He taps four fishermen and bids them follow him. They drop everything – boat, nets and family – and go with him, no questions asked. Jesus offered something different from normal good news. ‘Good News’ (Gospel) was the term used by messengers from the Roman army when bringing news of a military victory back to Caesar. Victory meant the people had new hope, a new start and a new lease of life. Peace and prosperity would come their way.
Jesus’ message of hope was embedded in the tortuous history of God’s people. The Old Testament is a record of Israel’s inability to be faithful to God. All kinds of human perversity are on display in its books. And yet it chronicles repeatedly God’s promise to be their refuge and their help.
God’s underlying message throughout the scriptures is one not of despair but of hope. God looked at his creation and called it good. He promised Abraham that his descendants would be a great people. He spoke to Pharaoh through Moses, shouting, “Let my people go!” And David was told his house would be great and his progeny would last forever.
Jesus came with the news that all these promises were about to come to fruition, that their lives and futures would be in their hands. But they would have choices to make. He invited people to look at life differently, to revise their assumptions and prejudices about each other and re-examine their basic certainties. In a word, Jesus called the process ‘repentance’.
God’s kingdom was theirs if they wanted it. It would be a web of human relationships marked by compassion and mercy, forgiveness, love, justice, truth and peace. As Jesus went about preaching this good news and healing all who were down and out, people began to get a sense of what he was about.
The fishermen who left their nets to follow him found his message irresistable. And doable. To those who claim that Christianity has failed, the British Catholic apologist, GK Chesterton, once quipped: “Christianity hasn’t failed. Christianity hasn’t been tried”.