DO YOU REALLY PREACH THE GOSPEL?
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Monday, Fifth Week of the Year, February 08, 2016
1 Kings 8:1-7, 9-13, Psalm 131, Mark 6:53-56
Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.
"And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and besought him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment; and as many as touched it were made well" (Mark 6:56).
Here Jesus heals the sick. All who even touched the fringe of his garment were made well. The Greek word used here for "were made well" is esozonto, which also means "were saved." It is the same verb used when Jesus tells the sinful woman that her sins are forgiven (Luke 7:48). He says to her, "Your faith has saved (sesoken) you; go in peace" (Luke 7:50). It is also the same word used by the Philippian jailer and St. Paul about ultimate salvation, when the jailer asked Paul and Barnabas, "‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved (sotho)?' So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (sothese), you and your household'" (Acts 16:30-31 NKJV). And St. Paul uses the same verb when telling us, "If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved (sothese)" (Romans 10:9 NKJV). And the Angel tells St. Joseph, using this same verb, that the whole purpose of Jesus' coming into the world is to save us from our sins, "She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save (sosei) his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).
Jesus cured many people, which saved them from much suffering, but the deepest reason for his coming into the world was to save us from our sins and to reconcile us with God, to remove our alienation from him caused by Adam's sin and our own sins, to take away the pain of our guilt, to remove God's anger from us for our sins, and to set us right with God and restore his peace in our heart. This is his great act of salvation.
And indeed, "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). There is only one Savior, the incarnate Son of God who died on the cross as a sin offering, taking our sins upon himself (2 Corinthians 5:21) and making atonement for them by his death, for "Christ died for our sins" (1 Corinthians 15:3). His suffering and death made reparation for our sins, satisfying divine justice for them, on our behalf, when we accept him in faith as our Savior.
Jesus Christ is the only one who does this for us, the only one who can lift our guilt and our depression for our sins from us and give us relief and peace. Furthermore, his own glorious righteousness is reckoned to us by God through our faith; or our faith is reckoned to us as righteousness (Romans 4:3, 5, 23-24). This changes us from guilty, miserable, depressed sinners into people declared by God to be righteous and made righteous, because of Christ's merits on the cross, since he suffered our punishment for our sins for us. Indeed, as Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me" (John 14:6). Jesus Christ is the only means, sent to the world by God, whereby human beings can be saved.
That is why St. Paul is not ashamed of the gospel, namely because it is the means through which human beings are saved. The gospel is the "good news" or message that Christ has atoned for our sins, and that this atonement is applied to us when we turn away from our sins and put our faith in him. St. Paul says, "I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16).
St. Paul's mission was to preach the gospel for their salvation to those who had not yet heard it. It is clear that this is the way that God wants all peoples to be saved - through us who believe, preaching this gospel to those who have not yet heard it. This is why he sent his apostles out, saying, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations (ethne), baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20).
We note that the Greek word used here for "nations" is ethne, which means peoples or ethnic groups. Modern nations may be composed of hundreds of separate ethnic groups or peoples or tribes, each with its own language. While it is true that the gospel has already been preached to all nations, in the modern sense, it certainly has not been effectively preached to all peoples, and there are still thousands of peoples with no viable local Church capable of evangelizing their own people. Hence the work of making disciples of all peoples (ethne) is far from finished, and local national Churches are in no way capable of doing this themselves among many of their ethnic groups. Hence the need for foreign missionaries from abroad.
But the question to us is, Do we really preach the gospel? or do we preach everything but the gospel? Really, the gospel should be preached in practically every sermon, for there are always new people in our audience who have never really heard it. And those who have long ago heard it need to hear it ever anew, because the gospel is the basic building blocks of our faith and of our new life in God.
In every new problem, crisis, or sin that we may fall into, we need to be realigned with God again by calling out to Christ in faith to be justified anew, that his merits on the cross might be applied to us anew to make reparation for our ever new faults, mistakes, and sins, even sins of thought. The gospel is our life as Christians. Christians need to hear it ever anew, and non-Christians need to hear it for the first time.
So ask yourself, Do you really know what the gospel is, even if you consider yourself to be a Christian? Do you really understand it? And if you are a priest or a pastor, do you really preach the gospel, or do you always preach about other things? In that case, do you ever preach the gospel? Have you ever, even once in your entire life preached the gospel, even if you are a priest or a pastor, preaching every Sunday and often on weekdays too?
Do you yourself really understand and believe the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ, namely that he took our sins upon himself (2 Corinthians 5:21) and suffered and died to make reparation for them (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2) to set us free from them? This is applied to us, when we turn away in sorrow from our sins, put our faith in Christ, and call upon him, asking that the chastisement of our peace be upon him (Isaiah 53:5 KJV) to satisfy divine justice on our behalf, to make reparation for our sins so that he might lift his wrath from us, and restore his peace to our heart, setting us right with him. And after really believing and experiencing this yourself, do you clearly preach it to others? As preachers of the gospel, as priests and pastors, this is what we should be doing. Are you doing it?
Works of charity are important, but it is a mistake to think that works of charity can replace the clear, faith-filled preaching of the gospel. They cannot. Nor are works of charity the same thing as preaching the gospel. Preaching the gospel should be supplemented by works of charity, but works of charity in themselves are no substitute for preaching the gospel.
The reason is that works of charity in themselves do not communicate the basic message of the gospel. Works of charity may say, "I have love for you," or may witness to God's love for people, but they do not tell people the saving message that they need to hear, know, and believe, namely that Christ died in reparation for our sins so that God's love could be communicated to us sinners; and that we sinners need to believe in and accept Christ as our Savior to benefit from his salvation. Only clearly preached sermons, based on the Scriptures, can communicate this saving message to people.
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