The Good News should be precisely that; But for whom? The Gospels tell us early on that Jesus’s mission is, as the Prophet Isaiah foretold, “to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim a year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). What the good news is not, however, is a satisfying yet empty message for the wealthy, the powerful or the comfortable. Likewise, preaching the good news should do precisely what Jesus asks of us: to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
As I get older I have increasingly less tolerance for homilies or sermons that are vacuous and offer little more than a verbal “pat on the back” to the, generally, comfortable congregations that I sometimes find myself among. I know plenty of good priests, good men who want to do the right thing, but have burnt out or don’t care or cannot bring themselves to “ruffle the feathers” of those who, quite frankly, need some ruffling.
I find myself, more often than not, in the camp of the comfortable. Even as a member of a religious community, my gender, my nationality, my age, my race and ethnicity, my education and a whole host of other factors combine to provide me with an experience of this world that is, on one hand, very “American,” that is comfortable. The challenges that face most of the world do not necessarily confront me, although I do my best to be aware of them and do something about them. I still have a long way to go, but I try. Perhaps that will be my only saving grace.
Yet, there are legions of others who fit the same bill, who have the benefits afforded one who lives comfortably in the world with the isolation that such middle-class or upper-class luxuries can provide. The Gospel does not have many positive things to say about those who are wealthy, comfortable or isolated from the suffering of others in this world. Jesus did not come to preach complacency and some bland brand of God’s love to this population. Yes, God loves the comfortable, but God also expects, demands something from them. That something is a reshaping of one’s worldview to include within the horizon of this or that comfortable person’s experience the plight of the poor, marginalized, voiceless and oppressed.
This is the job of those entrusted with Christian ministry, particularly preachers. Any rudimentary look at Scripture, especially if one consults a commentary with good scholarship about the Word, will reveal this challenge. To preach the Gospel means to announce the Kingdom of God, which turns everything upside down. If the comfortable leave their churches after a homily and do not pause to reflect on how the Gospel has challenged them to be better Christians, better human beings, then something has gone terribly wrong.
The Word of God continues to be life-giving, but that doesn’t mean it’s empty and pleasant. Nor is it blindly affirming. Christians are all called to conversion, part of which requires real-life action and change. If you’re not preaching the themes of social justice present everywhere in God’s Word, then you are not preaching the Gospel.