The Good News

Homily for the twenty-ninth Sunday of Year B (Mission Sunday). Isa 53:10-11; Ps 32; Heb 4:14-16; Mk 10:35-45

This Sunday is Mission Sunday. Now the word 'mission' implies that one is sent with some kind of message or purpose. For Christians the purpose of mission is to share the Gospel, a word that originally meant 'Good News'. Clearly, therefore, for us to be missionaries in our own societies or even to support the missions of others, it is important that we have some idea of what is the Gospel or 'Good News'. I shall devote today's brief homily to this topic.

So what, exactly, is the 'Good News'? Well, the first striking thing about the notion of good news is that there is news at all, that is, something new. Now even the fact that Christianity has brought something new to the world is surprisingly radical and almost subversive. Most religious movements and most philosophies of life do not proclaim anything new. Their stated aim, at best, is usually to teach us or remind us of what is already known or potentially knowable from other sources. Furthermore, many ancient religions of Asia, notably Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as the ancient Greeks, the Babylonians, the Incas and others, all regarded time as being like a circle. By this conception, all human ages repeat themselves forever so that nothing can ever really be new. This cycle is often represented by a symbol, the Ouroboros, the image of a dragon or serpent eating its own tail. The Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes articulates this commonly felt sentiment, "There is nothing new under the sun." Similarly, one of the proclaimations of Islam is that Muhammad is 'no new thing' (Sura 46:9; cf. 41:43). In other words, Muhammad himself claims that there is no news. In more recent times, the philosopher Nietzsche sought to reintroduce the notion of 'eternal return', the notion that all ages repeat themselves in contrast to the Christian good news.

The background of these many other philosophies and religions helps to throw into relief what is so unusual about Christianity, prefigured in Judaism, having news at all. So, what, then is the news of Christianity? What is radically new about Christianity is, of course, Christ - Jesus Christ who is not just a man, a moral teacher or even a saint, but God himself come to save us. So two thousand years ago, when Mary and Joseph, shepherds, kings, angels and animals were gathered around a humble crib in Bethlehem, they were looking not only at a child, but on the face of God made flesh. And this event, the birth of Christ, is something extraordinary, something truly new. The great philosophers knew that there is a God, but never dreamt that the one and only true God would be born in a stable or die on a cross to save us. Christ's birth has broken time's dreary circle. Human history now progresses, having a beginning, a middle and an end, a past, present and future, and the event of Christ's birth divides the measurement of the passing years into BC and AD.

So the good news is that there is something radically new, God became man to save us. But besides Christ himself, many new and unique things have come to us through Christ, things that are also part of the Christian Gospel. The most important of these new things is that Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, has reconciled us to God and enabled us to participate in his divinity. By virtue of our Baptism, we are all, as St John says, children of God, we are able to call God 'Father' and are members of a new kind of society, the Church. A Christian is not called to be a slightly better human being, or to live a worldly life simply with some religion added on. Someone called to be a Christian is called to be a new creation, an adopted child of one Heavenly Father, a co-heir with the Son, moved by the Holy Spirit. This call to be a Christian does not end all our suffering, but makes this suffering redemptive. Such a calling does not end death, but makes death the gateway to eternal life. Our privilege and calling is to become saints.

Now amid our daily challenges, problems and temptations, the notion of being saints might seem remote and farfetched. We may not believe that we could achieve this kind of greatness. Today's Gospel reminds us, however, that God's conception of greatness is not our conception. James and John want to sit at Jesus' right and left hand in the Kingdom. They are not, in a sense, wrong to be ambitious but they have not yet understood what the Kingdom means. In the Kingdom of Heaven, it is not human greatness that counts, but the surrender of a heart to God out of love, accompanied by the willingness to drink from the chalice of suffering. Hence St Therese of Lisieux, who appeared to achieve nearly nothing in her short life on earth, is today an inspiration to millions of people. As the fruits of her life continue to show us, it is not the great things, but little things done with great love which are treasured in the Kingdom.

So may God increase our desire to be saints and to share the Gospel with others out of love. May we surrender to grace in daily prayer, receive the sacraments worthily, grow in divine love and come one day to eternal life.

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