Jesus’ ministry was good news for everyone he talked to. It was good for the apostles, who believed most of the things that he was doing. It was good for the tax collectors and prostitutes Jesus had dinner parties with. It was good for the lepers. It was good for women and children. It was good for the poor. When Jesus came to earth, everyone benefitted.
Well not everyone. Not the religious leaders.
I mean, when you make a living drawing lines in the sand between the righteous and the unrighteous, then a Messiah who serves and exalts the unrighteous is bad for business.
For centuries, many churches have proclaimed that the Gospel is good news for the religious, but bad news for everyone else. But in Jesus’ time, the Gospel was good news for everyone except the religious, because they were the ones who had the most to lose by his coming.
And none of us wants a Gospel that requires us to lose something. That’s why the Rich Young Ruler walked away sad when Jesus asked him to give away everything he had. He wanted a Messiah, but he didn’t want the change that came with it.
And I think the church today might be guilty of the same thing the Rich Young Ruler and the Pharisees were guilty of. We want a Messiah to take us all to heaven. We want a God who can heal our illnesses and soothe our pain. We want a Lord who elevates us to greatness. But we don’t want to lose everything we’ve worked for in the process. We want personal benefits without systemic change, because systemic change means starting over.
And so for those of us with power, wealth, prestige, and respect, the Gospel can start to sound more like bad news than good news. For those of us who are successful at life, the Christian call for submission and surrender seems uneccessarily ascetic.
Those who profit by the way the world works now may not want everything to be made new. And for them, the Gospel may not sound like good news.
But the Gospel is still good news, even for those of us who have everything to lose by following it. There’s a reason that Jesus called his followers to a new way of living – because it’s a better way. A way that connects us to the community of believers as they draw closer to the Creator.
Jesus didn’t call the Rich Young Ruler to sell all his possessions because he wanted to make him miserable. He wanted him to give up his livelihood so that he could really experience life.
When the world is better for the poor, oppressed, and marginalized, it’s better for everyone. When those who have worldy power and wealth abandon it in order to serve their neighbor, the whole community benefits.
In order to truly appreciate the power of the Gospel, we have to let it be systemic, rather than personal. It’s not about how God makes me better, it’s about how God lowers the powerful to exalt the whole community.
So when we gather in church buildings and sing songs and hear encouraging sermons, is anything changing in our communities? Are we asking for God to restore the oppressed while we cling to a system that holds them down?
A friend of mine likes to say “The Gospel is only good news if it’s good news for everyone.” I agree. It’s about what God is doing in all of our lives. And if it’s going to be good news for all of us, it has to change everything. Otherwise, it’s not really the Gospel.
If we want to experience the fullness of God in our communities, we have to be willing to surrender everything, give up our influence, power, and piety to become servants to everyone. If we truly want God to make all things new, we have to let God make all things new, starting by surrendering our privilege.