The news is not necessarily good. If you follow a newspaper or some online news source, or if you take in the news by TV or radio, you will not presume that the news you learn will be good news. NPR reported not long ago on a study which researched the relationship between being well informed with the news, and being happy. Are people who spend more time and energy getting more news more happy in life? No. It’s largely the opposite, an inverted relationship: the people with more news are more unhappy. Well, I’m not about to suggest we become News Luddites; but I am saying that good news is remarkable, because there’s so much bad news. That is as true today as it was in Jesus’ own day. Which is why the news that people heard on Jesus’ lips was compelling: because it was so good. He called it that – good news – and people voted with their feet. If Jesus had been a political candidate, we could call it an enormous swelling of grassroots’ support. They followed him in hordes.
The Gospel lesson appointed for today gives us a picture of the response to Jesus’ good news by two pairs of brothers, Simon and Andrew, and James and John. These are career fishermen. We know little else. Were they happy? Were they successful in their trade? Were they in debt? Were they similar in temperament? Were they honorable? Were they healthy? Did they have good family and social relationships? Were they active and in good standing in their synagogue? We have no idea. What we do know is that something happened in their encounter with Jesus. It’s like their souls had been primed for something more, or for something different, or for something new, and what they uniformly heard from Jesus was such compellingly good news that they dropped everything. Literally. The adverb used to describe their response to Jesus’ invitation is “immediately.” All four of them. “Immediately they left their nets and followed Jesus.” (1) And it’s not as if Jesus told them where they were going. Jesus simply invited them to follow him, and, on the spot they did, with all their heart, and soul, and mind, and strength.
On the surface, these responses to Jesus are counterintuitive. Where’s the good news in Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, having just been arrested? John the Baptist was Jesus’ “front man,” so this clearly does not bode well for other people following Jesus. In short order, John is beheaded by the authorities, which hardly good news for any of Jesus’ followers. The other curiosity, why people would find Jesus’ news so good and so immediately compelling, was his repeated use of the word, “repent.” The verb “repent” has something of a sting. It’s a word of compassionate judgment. To repent is to go about changing your mind. Whatever you’re thinking, you realize you’ve got it wrong. You need to repent, to change your mind and believe something new. In this case, what’s new is the news, the good news. (2) Rather than believing the bad news, believe the good news on Jesus’ lips.
So here’s three good news clips:
What’s so compellingly good is not about being exposed or found out by Jesus, but simply being found by Jesus. Called by Jesus. Included by Jesus. Loved by Jesus. No qualifiers are front-loaded in the relationship. These four fishermen are not hearing Jesus say when they get their act cleaned up, when they get their boats in order, when they get their spiritual disciplines well honed, when they change their disgusting fish-stinking clothes, he will have time for them. That would be mixed news. No, Jesus’ compelling invitation is to them “in real time,” as we would say. And it’s true for you, too. There’s no kind of pre-existing condition that you must satisfy before Jesus will call you, include you, love you, make plans with you. Jesus comes to us, like to these simple fishermen, and what Jesus finds in us he adores. We need not change to be loved by Jesus; but by being loved by Jesus we will change. Jesus’ love certainly changed Peter and Andrew, James and John, and it is true also for you. Love makes us real. Love, only love, heals. And what we see and hear in Jesus is God’s love… for you: love without qualification. And that’s really good news for you and for us all. If you have a secret qualifier, why it is that Jesus cannot love you or may not love you – a kind of net that is keeping Jesus’ love out – you need to drop the net. Surrender your qualifiers. Do it today. Do it immediately. You don’t need to change for Jesus to love you; however Jesus’ love will change you. Absolutely. And that’s very good news.
Secondly, the verb “repent” gets bad press, and quite unfairly. “Repent” does have a little sting of judgment. If someone has ever told you to your face, “you’ve got it wrong,” you will understand the sting. You could rile to that judgment. Except what Jesus is saying to these fishermen, and to us, is that you’ve unwittingly embraced bad news about you, and it’s not true. Give it up. Change your mind. I’ll use here a phrase from the psalms: you are “the apple of God’s eye,” and God adores you.” (3) Jesus’ use of the verb “repent” implies a judgment on us all, but it’s a judgment of love. Take that in; wrap your brain around that; change your mind. All that bad stuff you learned to think about yourself, your unworthiness, your hopelessness, how pathetic, inadequate, lost, and damned you are… all that bad news is absolutely not true about you. Jesus is this eternal change agent come among us to convince you to change your mind, to convince you that you are lovable and loved for all eternity. Jesus has come to personally deliver that good news. In Jesus’ day this amazingly good news piqued people’s ears, and changed their minds, and broke open their hearts, and they followed him in droves.
Lastly, this is good news because it’s news. That Jesus loves you may be old news stored somewhere in the archives of your soul. If pushed, you might say Jesus used to love you, when you were more innocent and less complicated, when you were better disciplined and less damaged, or that Jesus’ love for you is theoretically true for the most part, or that Jesus’ love for you is true, but with a qualification; however that qualification – something you know about yourself – keeps you from completely embracing the truth of Jesus’ love for you today. Well, this is news. This is not olds. This is news for you, today, now. Jesus loves you. If you didn’t wake up today with that awareness, I’ve got news for you. Actually, Jesus has news for you, good news. God loves you. Has big plans for you that span all eternity. In the meantime, where will this good news lead you? Where will Jesus lead you? I wouldn’t know. His invitation to all of us is simply to follow. Your life will unfold day-at-a-time. That’s pretty much all we can deal with. Just take Jesus at his word: he loves you, and he is with you always. (4) And between the two of you – Jesus operating and you co-operating – your heart, and soul, and mind, and strength will be infused by Jesus’ light and life and love. (5) The truth of that good news will absolutely change your life for the better; much better. It will give you hope for the future, what you cannot yet see. (6) And it will make a world of difference.
1 This adverb “immediately” – ευ᾿θε´ως – appears numerous times in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, in the Acts of the Apostles, and elsewhere in the New Testament describing the effect of Jesus’ words or work, e.g., Matthew 8:3; 14:31; 20:34; 26:74.
2 To repent – metάnoia – from the preposition μετά (after, with) and the verb νοέω (to perceive, to think. Metάnoia means “a change of mind.” To believe – pisteuō – is to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to place confidence or trust, i.e., confidence in Jesus’ good news for you.
3 Psalm 17:8.
4 Matthew 28:20.
5 Mark 12:30.
6 We need hope in the blind. St. Paul writes, “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” Romans 8:24-25.
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