Am I good news or bad news? To be or not to be the Good News. That is the question! A question I have to ask myself every day. It’s an identity thing. As a baptized Christian, Jesus commands me to go out into the world and tell the good news (cf. Mt. 28:19-20). This is the “Great Commission,” and it is not just to me as a priest, but to every one of us who identifies as a Christian. So what does that mean: to tell the “Good News”?

Well “Good News” is what Gospel means. So we just go around telling people nice things that make them feel good? Is that what the “joy of the Gospel” that Pope Francis always talks of is all about? If that’s what we are all supposed to do, who is going to get all the work done? Who is going to pay the bills and make sure jobs are done on time and in an order? Touchy-feely doesn’t make a buck and to make a buck you have to get off the dime. It can’t be all nice talk.

St. Paul, who was a tentmaker by trade, understood that well. He had strong words for lazy layabouts who did not earn their keep: “In fact when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat” (1 Thess. 3:10). Ouch! That doesn’t sound like such good news (even if — heh, heh, heh — it’s so on the money!).

Being an evangelist means being one who lives by and works by actually BEING good news. You might say it’s an attitude, a way of being human that is always filled with gratitude, patience and a spirit of encouragement. In biblical terms, it means living justly, in the way of which St. Joseph was said to be “a just man.”

A just person does not live with an attitude of entitlement or a constantly critical nature, because he or she is always concerned about setting things right and living right. Matthew the Evangelist describes the Great Commission as “teaching them to observe what I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:20). That’s a far cry from telling people everything they want to hear.

We know that Jesus often made tough demands on his disciples, like forgiving without limit — seven times seventy times (Mt. 18:22) — just as we always expect God to do for us, no? He told them to “pray always” and spent much time in prayer as well (cf. Lk. 18:1, 1 Thess. 5:17). His sayings on generosity, especially to the poor, were beyond the ability (or willingness) of many to comprehend, even when he was commanding this out of deep love (Mk. 10:21).

Children often think their parents cruel when they do not obey all their orders, giving them what they want when they want it. Many young people go through a stage in which they believe a parent actually hates them … because they must do their homework or household chores before supper, or can’t have the car after 9 p.m., or even need to take turns walking the dog. What sounds like hate might actually be tough love. Even adults do not always understand the sacrifices and patience of one who loves them, who may not consent to leading them into sin by some form of indulgence in the wrong entertainment, or company, or substance.

Being good news means being good for those we love and even to those we do not particularly like. Good news is always saving news, something that makes us better off. No one who encounters Jesus ever receives anything but the truth from him. And that truth is something that always changes us — for the better. In last Sunday’s Gospel we heard of an encounter in which Jesus drove a demon out of a man possessed. The demon identified Jesus correctly as “the Holy One of God” (Mk. 1:24) and accused Jesus of trying to destroy “us.” Diabolical forces (“diabola” in Greek) always scatter and recoil against holiness that heals, unifies and brings wholeness. Rebellion is the mark of Satan and in the face of the “Good News,” there will be opposition by those who do not want it.

Tyrants always recoil in the face of the Gospel, which threatens their egos and their power. They seek not the liberation and prosperity of souls but to control and enslave in accord with the dictates of their own will. The Gospel breaks these bonds that cast people into camps or factions or various categories that define them by genes or demographics or superficial attributes. To them, the Gospel is a threat for it is a great equalizer. Its message is that all are loved by God and all are offered salvation. You don’t need a certain card, or license or degree to get into the Kingdom of God.

Getting back to our original question, however — am I good news or bad news? — we see that proclaiming the Gospel is all about living it, putting it into practice in our everyday life. It means living lives full of a joy that literally oozes from our pores and radiates to all whom we meet. Where do we get that joy? We can’t always feel good — when we are sick, or in a sad situation, surrounded by life’s adversities.

We have all heard stories of the heroism of saints who smiled while being stoned or burnt, had the composure to pray for those who were mocking or even torturing them. They would be the first to confess their strength came from God and not their own fortitude. Their joy — and the joy of any Christian who accepts the saving message of Jesus — is not from what they have done, earned or stored up. It is from what, or rather Whom they have heard and believed. It is the Word made flesh Himself who has told them of God’s love and forgiveness in and through Him and that Who has called them by name.

This is a joy that can only be given. It is a gift, a grace. It does not come on that day when, suddenly, I hit the jackpot or win the lottery or get that promotion or degree. It is totally unearned, undeserved. One might even say “unjustified,” because it is Jesus who justifies us, giving us the reward that he deserves, so to speak, by taking the punishment from us that we deserved (for our sins and unworthiness), as it has often been paraphrased from old.

If this makes one “feel good” — and why not? — so be it. Amen! But this is not the same as some superficial, saccharine “feel good” religiosity. There was a great price to pay for this. The Son of God died a horrible death for each and every one of us. There is a cross to bear in receiving this joy and a share in that cross will fall on the shoulders of those who live in this joy. As Jesus warned us, we will be persecuted and rejected, as he was. Why does such Good News hit the powers of this world as bad news? The answer is simple and searing: it dethrones them, breaks their spell and exalts the one and only Savior of humankind. And that’s good for ALL humanity, not just the elite, the rich and the famous.

Believe this, and you are saved. Live this, and you will rejoice. Proclaim this in word and example, and you are the evangelizer, the one who tells the Good News to a world starving for Love. For finally it is a matter of love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn. 3:16-17).

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