OK, I’ve got good news and bad news, and, it turns out it’s the same news.
Confused? Don’t be. This reality is as old as time itself. One man’s Good News is another man’s bad news, and, as usual, it depends on the condition of your desires and your perspective.
But that is true in so many other aspects of our lives. Take the financial markets. When bonds are cheap and the market is down, some folks think it’s a disaster while others are making money. It just depends on how you’ve set up your portfolio. At other times when the reverse is true then the other side wails disaster while the group that was crying before is celebrating. You only have to go to any election night to also see this truth at work. One group is celebrating and the other group begins to predict the imminent demise of our society because of this or that election.
This situation isn’t so much “good” or “bad” as it is diagnostic and revelatory as to priorities and perspectives.
And this is true of the spiritual life as well.
In a few days we will celebrate the Theophany of our Lord Jesus. We will go with John the Baptizer into the wilderness to hear sermons by this last Old Testament prophet as he prepares for the revelation of the Son of God coming to him to be baptized in the Jordan.
And that event, as is the very message of the Gospel of God coming into the world to redeem all of creation, is “good news” to some and actually very “bad news” to others.
In our Gospel Lesson today (Luke 3:1-18) we hear St. John the Forerunner preaching “hell fire and brimstone!” He’s pulling no punches as he declares the coming of the Messiah and he is quite clear this is going to be “good news” to the oppressed, but he is equally sure this is going to be very “bad news” to the oppressors. The broken, the needy, the cheated, and the weak are going to get relief, but those who have caused all this calamity to their fellow men are going to get their due as well. Listen to just one verse of St. John’s homily; “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:9)
Those listening to this verbal assault on wickedness and inequity are convinced by John that something, Someone, is coming to set all the world right and they ask “What then shall we do?” To which John replies with a litany of right behaviors that reflect an internal righteousness and love and concern for others.
St. Paul called the message of the Good News a “two-edged sword” in Hebrews 4:12. He writes “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
Today, the message of Jesus Christ is Good News, but make no mistake, it is also bad news to those who, out of their freedom, choose to live self-centered lives. So, it isn’t a surprise when these folks react to the message of Jesus with rejection and even hatred. This message sets all things right, and even in my own heart, I find this message challenges my choices, my behaviors, and my priorities. And that ain’t comfortable, not even a little bit.
But this spiritual surgery is absolutely necessary if I am ever going to be able to be healed of the illness of my own self-centeredness. And even though at times this spiritual surgery is painful, inconvenient, and uncomfortable, my willingness to endure and press through my own discomfort in this process reveals whether I see the message of faith as Good news or not.
As we approach the Baptism of our Lord and the revelation of His true mission in the earth, let us make peace with the reality that the message of the Faith is going to cause as much discomfort as it is peace, and let’s mark those places of discomfort for what they are: a clear revelation of the places that are the most in need of salvation in my own heart. And then, let’s let the Master Physician do His good work in our lives.