Wisdom! Be attentive! We must pay close attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it (Heb 2:1). We will not escape the just retribution of the Lord if we neglect the great salvation he declares to us (Heb 2:3).
Our salvation in our incarnate Lord and God Jesus Christ is preached to us. The Lord declares our salvation and those who hear him, attest to that salvation (Heb 2:3). This proclamation of salvation is necessary for our salvation. Because, as St. John Chrysostom says, “I do not believe in the salvation of anyone who does not try to save others.”
We know our salvation because it has been shared with us. Those who knew Jesus, and witnessed his life, his teachings, his death, and his resurrection proclaim it to the world. And those who believe proclaim it to the next generation and so on and on until the present. This is tradition – that which is handed down to us from Jesus Christ through his apostles and their successors in unbroken continuity to us here today. This is the gospel to which God bears witness by signs and wonders and various miracles (Heb 2:4) such as the healing of the paralytic in the gospel (Mark 2:10-12).
A purpose of all of these healings and miracles is to point to our new life in Christ – the everlasting life in Christ – that is, the resurrected and glorified life through death that awaits all of us who believe and live faithfully.
If we really hear and really believe the gospel, then we don’t stop with hearing. We can’t. Because it is the gospel that we must go and preach the gospel (Mark 16:15). We are to evangelize.
My, how we Catholics often loathe the thought sharing the gospel with our neighbors. Of admitting to people how in love we are with Jesus Christ. But if we don’t share, they won’t know.
We tend to cling to an old model of church growth through fertility – of passive proselytism by propagation if you will. We don’t mind sharing our faith with our children, but we’re terrified of sharing it with a neighbor who might disagree with us about it. I think our accommodation of our surrounding culture has become too deeply ingrained at this point.
We must learn again how to evangelize. How to preach the gospel to the world – to every creature – to the whole cosmos (Mark 16:15). It doesn’t involve casting our pearls before swine (Matt 7:6), but it also doesn’t involve hiding a light under a bushel basket (Matt 5:15). There is mystagogy only for the initiated, there is catechesis for the uninitiated, and there is evangelism for everybody. To all, we preach Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 1:23).
The Philokalia or the writings of St. Gregory Palamas in defense of hesychasm probably don’t make a good opening salvo in our proclamation of the gospel to the world. These are pearls before the world’s swine. These are treasures that aid in living the life in Christ after we have answered his call and entered into his holy mysteries.
But our light shining before all – which comes from living this mystery – is our love for one another, for God, and for all. This is a word for all: Christ, and him crucified – that our God so loves us that he comes among us in every way but sin.
Faith comes by hearing (Rom 10:17). If we never hear this word we never have an opportunity to believe it. So we must preach the gospel at all times, and use words constantly – not with wise-sounding words, but with the word of the cross (1 Cor 1:17-18).
The words of the gospel are good. They need to be heard. And so they need to be preached – with words – but also with the example of life lived in Christ. The gospel is worth talking about, and it’s even more worth living. Without this, we can actually do a disservice to the gospel we preach. Our hypocrisy can be a bad witness.
I used to be a bumper sticker guy. As an artist and a designer, I still have a significant interest in bumper stickers as a means of social communication. So, I used to want to put bumper stickers on my car that express my Christian faith, and my own perspective on Christian faith. So I designed one that said, “Is the pope Orthodox?” – playing on the expression “Is the pope Catholic?” And I designed another one that said “Liturgy is Life,” playing off those old “Basketball is life” or “Football is life” stickers that I used to see. Anyway, I’ve always hesitated to actually put Christian bumper stickers on my car because I’m such a bad driver. I mean, I’m all over the road, and I have a lead foot, and I crash into things a lot. I probably shouldn’t have a license. I feared, you understand, being a bad witness. It’s one thing to share with people how much I love liturgical worship, it’s another thing to share it with them while I’m cutting them off in traffic, which is a selfish and unchristian thing to do. Lord, have mercy.
Let us share the gospel with words and with our way of life – and even with how we drive. Evangelism is all-encompassing and cannot be reduced to any technique.
But what is the gospel really – the εὐαγγέλιον – the good news?
Jesus gives a foretaste of the good news in his healing of the paralytic (Mark 2:10-12). And he has been healing many people. As soon as Jesus begins his ministry, he immediately begins driving out unclean spirits (Mark 1:22-26, 34), lifting up those who lay fevered (Mark 1:29-31), cleansing lepers (Mark 1:40-42), and healing many with various diseases (Mark 1:34).
“What is the point of all of this?” some have objected. All these people that Jesus heals will only get sick again anyway and someday die. There is a seeming inescapable finality and inevitability about death. Well, these healings are signs pointing to the gospel of Jesus Christ. And the gospel is that the coming healing is not temporary, but everlasting.
Imagine for a moment that you know a doctor who has a diet plan that is the cure for cancer. I’m talking about a cure. Cancer killed both my parents. And it’s killing people right now in its many and varied forms. So it is our enemy and we rightly seek to destroy it. Well, what if you knew a doctor who has the cure? Would you say, I need to tell everybody about this doctor, but only use words when necessary? No, I hope you would tell everyone by every means available to you. I hope you wouldn’t hesitate and worry, what people might think of you if you fail to keep this cancer-curing diet yourself at times. If the diet cures cancer, tell me about the diet, whether you keep it or not. If the diet cures cancer, tell me about the diet using spoken and written words and images and videos and Facebook and social media and everything available to you and yes keep the diet yourself, but even when you fail in some of this, don’t neglect the rest.
Well, the gospel is like this. I really do know a guy who has the cure for cancer. In fact, though my parents are already dead from cancer, he can still cure them. Not only can he, but he has cured them. He has risen them from the dead in the eschaton which is present, as well as future. And I can only see it with eyes of faith, but I can see it. I’ve been given eyes to see. I’m going to tell you about him. And I’m going to use words, which are at all times necessary.
By FR. DEACON JOHN R.P. RUSSELL
Fr. Deacon John R.P. Russell is a husband, a father of three, a deacon for the Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Eparchy of Parma, a painter particularly influenced by abstract expressionism and iconography, and a custom picture framer. He serves St. Athanasius Byzantine Catholic Church in Indianapolis, IN. He has an M.Div. from the Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Ss. Cyril and Methodius and a B.A. in art with a minor in religion from Wabash College. He blogs here: http://holydormition.blogspot.com/.