If, as followers of Christ, we are sent out to proclaim the good news that the kingdom of God is near at hand, what would that look like in practical terms? It would have to look something like what Jesus did. When the disciples of John the Baptist asked Jesus what they should say to John about whether Jesus might be the messiah, he told them to “go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”
So, proclaiming the good news has something to do with restoring sight, healing the lame, cleansing lepers, enabling the deaf to hear, raising the dead and bringing good news to the poor. Sounds fairly straight forward. It has little to do with the common way of understanding evangelism, and everything to do with continuing the work that Jesus did, within the constraints of our human condition.
Restoring sight, for instance, requires knowing what it is that one can’t see, and why they can’t see it. That can’t be done without spending time for enough mutual trust to develop so that what can and cannot be seen can be the subject of unhurried conversation. If the kingdom of God is near at hand, it is a kingdom that can be illuminated through the words so that others can see it, but not until the causes of their blindness have been dealt with.
What does the kingdom of God look like to you? What words do you have to describe it?
What causes lameness? Things disfigured, broken, out of joint, and sprained are incapacitating, making it hard or impossible to get around. Everything is a struggle when one is lame. The spiritually lame are no different, and, one way or another, each of us is lame to some degree. Childhood experiences, exposure to unpleasant church preaching and practice, workplace problems, issues with home, health, friends and family all cause spiritual lameness. Recovery requires a solid diagnosis. What makes walking with God hard for a person? There is a different answer for each, and only they know what that answer is. Without assumption or prejudice, continuing the work of Christ means taking the time to listen to their story. Then come simple exercises, done together, not hard at first, but always pressing onward and upward.
Peter and Paul understood their own lameness well. They never recovered fully, but they learned to walk without fear or hesitation in spite of their limitations. It’s part of what inspired others to follow their lead.
Leprosy is what we now call Hansen’s Disease. It is easily treated with today’s medicines, but for centuries it was a death sentence. It was so feared in Jesus’ day that many skin disorders were called leprosy. Sufferers were stripped of every human dignity, forced to live apart as best they could, and shunned on pain of death from contact with any clean person. Today’s lepers are those whom society shuns for whatever reason. They are the detested, avoided, humiliated, bullied, and ignored for the way they look and act, the diseases they have, and the conditions of their lives. Healing begins by recognizing them as beloved of God, respecting their human dignity, and embracing their company, not as betters reaching down, but as equals reaching out. The disciples had a hard time with that. They tended to think of themselves descending to the level of those in need, or raising others up to their own level. Even among themselves they jostled for position as the greatest. It took a while for them to learn that in God’s kingdom all God’s beloved are on the same level, just in different places on that level. We are no different. We live in a world of upper, middle and lower classes; hierarchical churches and corporations; to go up is good, to go down is bad. It may be true that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but we are pretty sure that we have not fallen as far as others.
As the sainted Fr. Damien discovered, it’s so much easier for one leper to embrace another, but first you have to know you are a leper.
“Can you hear what I hear?” asks a popular Christmas song. According to recent polls, there are many, especially among the young, who cannot hear the good news because of all the noises rattling out of churches that sound like narrow minded bigotry, cheap grace, get rich schemes, mind-boggling ignorance, vacuous thinking, and so forth. All that noise has made them deaf to anything else. We need to know what someone can hear and is hearing, before we can introduce them to something they can’t hear yet. Polls are not reliable indicators of what any one person can or cannot hear. Conversation is the only gateway to finding out. It’s a conversation requires us to do most of the listening.
How is your own hearing? Might you possibly be a bit deaf to what others are trying to tell you? Do you ever listen to yourself to discern what others hear? Truth be told, most of us are lousy listeners because we are lazy listeners.
You have heard the saying about being pecked to death by ducks. It means that one can be killed bit by bit in hundreds of ways. The walking dead are not zombies, they are our friends and neighbors who have died a thousand deaths at the hands of others. But they are are not dead to God. Resurrection can be theirs, a bit at a time, now, here in this life. Jesus calls us to restore them to life, but how? He raised the dead by touching them with the very source of life itself, the living word of God through whom all things came to be. As followers of Christ, some small part of that power has been given to us also. We carry it in the cracked and leaky clay pots of our own lives. We carry it not to be hoarded, but to be poured out into the lives of others as a life giving balm. Life and hope can be restored through the presence of God’s love that touches them through our presence, especially if we keep out of God’s way, hold our tongues, and refrain from preaching.
Jesus was fully present to each person he encountered. Through that full and undivided presence he healed, made whole and restored fulness of life. The kingdom of God came crashing into lives who desperately needed it. It was the good news. We are not Jesus, but we are his followers. He commissioned each of us to continue his work as best we are able.
Of course we need to tell the story, but first we must give sight to the blind, heal the lame, cleanse the lepers, restore hearing to the deaf, and raise the dead. Telling the story will follow.