The scripture lessons of today speak about the Good News of God. Unfortunately, the fact is that today the Good News we proclaim does not sound like good news. Not only in our preaching but even in our lives, we reflect not only stale news but even at times bad news. But stale news is a contradiction in terms. News, to be news, must be new. If it is no longer new, then we can hardly call it news. But it is not just news that we are called to proclaim, but the Good News.
How is it that our Good News has become stale or bad news? The reason given in today’s gospel is simply this: we want to domesticate the good news of God. In the gospel, the people wanted to keep Jesus all for themselves. So they tried to prevent Him from leaving. Jesus must have been tempted to stay back in the village where He had healed many people. He had indeed become very popular and well-sought after. In fact, when things were going on so well for Him, it would not have made sense for Him to leave the place. Yes, Jesus must have felt the temptation to build His own kingdom. After all, who would want to leave a place when one is loved, known, idolized and always the center of attention?
There is a great temptation for us today to domesticate the Good News by insisting that everything remain unchanged. Indeed, in the world today there is an opposition between the traditionalists and the progressives. On one hand, there are those who do not want to see the Church changing to adapt to the new situations and the demands of our time. They want the gospel to remain as it is and face the danger of redundancy as the message no longer resonates with our people. Truth of course cannot be changed, but we need to know whether we are holding on to the truths or simply the facade. Truths need to be applied to new situations because of new challenges. Truths need to be represented in a new language and in a new context.
The demons too wanted to domesticate the good news by deceiving us into believing that we know Jesus when we do not. That was why they proclaimed Jesus publicly as the Son of God. Of course, Jesus rebuked them. Why? One might wonder. Simply because Jesus knew that if the people heard from the demons that He was the Son of God, they would have been blinded from searching for Christ themselves. The people would have deceived themselves into thinking that because they knew about His origin, they also knew Him personally. Then they would not be bothered to seek Jesus for a deeper relationship. It is just like those who have attended some talks on prayer and leave the seminar thinking that they now know all about centering prayer when in truth they have never even put it to practice on their own. They have mistaken an intellectual knowledge of God and prayer for personal knowledge. Indeed, for many of us who have been long in the faith, we think we have heard everything and that there is nothing more for us to learn. We are no longer docile, receptive and teachable. Those of us who study too much theology have a danger of thinking that we know much about God when our knowledge is mere cerebral knowledge, a knowledge that does not even affect the way we live our lives. When there is no radical conversion or integrity of life in accordance with what we know or teach then we should be wary of thinking that we have the Good News.
How, then, can we preserve the Good News so that it will always remain good and fresh? We can do so only if we recognize that God and life are dynamic. Anything that is static is dead. They are found only in the cemeteries and museums. Anything that is alive is always dynamic. Therefore, we must avoid the danger of settling down to our comfortable and set ways of living. This can manifest itself in many ways. For example, many of us get used to the routine of Church practices; the routine of parish life; the routine of prayer life. Faith has become merely a culture, a way of life that we live without thinking or understanding. We are doing what good Catholics must do, observing all the customs and laws but often without understanding and personal conviction. At other times, it could be the set ways of thinking, the fixed ways of praying and understanding God in our lives; the lack of courage to change, to take risks and to venture out. Undoubtedly, it is less risky to maintain our status quo than to take up new challenges in life. But the fact is that, when we settle for a perpetuation of our status quo, we are settling for less in life. Life will remain stagnant and there will be no growth.
On the other hand, those who do not enslave God and enslave themselves to their comfort zones and are willing to dance with the dynamism of life, will always find life alive. Take the Christians in the first reading for example. They were really living the Good News because they were in love with each other. Of course, love is always creative and dynamic. That is why people in love are always full of surprises. When we fall out of love, creativity also dies. Indeed, Jesus was a man who was truly alive because He had this deep love for His fellowmen. That was what motivated Him to move on and to declare in no uncertain terms to those who wanted Him to stay that “To other towns I must announce the good news of the reign of God, because that is why I was sent.” Indeed, if Jesus had chosen to stay, and even if He had been of use to the people there, it would have been more for Himself than for His fellowmen.
For this reason, we need to let go. To the extent that we are willing to let go of our security and our needs, to that extent we will find life challenging and exciting. But we can let go only if, like Jesus, we withdraw daily and often to re-examine our motives for doing things. Prayer helps us to keep our perspectives right and prevent us from settling down to our neat concepts about God and life and our daily living. Indeed, when things are getting too comfortable for us, perhaps, it is time for us to change. In a nutshell, the Good News can retain its vigour and power only when we realize that we are pilgrims along the way. Like Jesus, we must always move on in life, for that is the very nature of life and our calling.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore
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