No wonder the labourers for the harvest are so few if they are to be devoured like lambs by wolves! Nor does the prospect of being opposed and rejected exactly sound attractive! Yes, there would also be men of peace who would accept them, but Jesus’ forecast looked bad for the bringers of the “Good News.”
The Gospel is Good News. But it will only be heard as such if people want to hear it as such. Practically the first words of Jesus the preacher were: “Repent and believe the Good News.” In other words, to believe the Good News you must first accept the bad news that you need to repent of sin. To this, people all of all ages and epochs have responded: “Repent? Repent of what? Are you telling me I’m doing something wrong? How dare you! I will decide for myself what’s right and wrong. So, keep your repentance and your ‘good news’.”
What is the core of the Good News? It is that, by his death and resurrection, Jesus came to save the whole person from sin and death and restore him to life with God. The premise is, of course, that we need saved, that we are in a situation of loss, spiritually, morally and even physically. If a person rejects that premise, then by definition the Gospel is nonsense and Jesus and his preachers are impostors.
The crux of the matter here is a clash of wills: Christ’s will versus our own personal will. Because of the Fall, humanity finds itself fundamentally at odds with God. Salvation consists in once more obeying the will of God. Christ himself became man so as to be the first human being to return to obedience to the Father. He did not do it just to show off, but to make it possible for us to do the same. The Good News is therefore also the offer to us of the powerto be obedient to God. That’s the whole purpose of Christ’s death and resurrection. That’s the whole purpose of the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Obedience to God is the true meaning and fulfilment of human freedom. Otherwise, freedom implodes. Our freedom is the noblest dimension of our humanity. It is the highest reflection in us of the image of God. How we handle our freedom will affect every aspect of our lives for good or for ill. That is why it must be carefully guarded, educated and used. Freedom can be easily compromised or even lost if we choose the wrong things or even choose the right things the wrong way. By freedom we choose truth or falsehood and so ourselves become true or false. By freedom we love or hate and so become loving or hateful. Freedom is our drama, our dilemma: it shapes our destiny as either glory or catastrophe.
Jesus offers us his Gospel, his death and resurrection, the gift of his Spirit and the gift of his Church as the world, the atmosphere, the climate, the breathing space within which to find eternal truth and the fulfilment of our freedom. It’s not a dream world or a fantasy land. It does not offer easy solutions. It demands the sweat of commitment and the tears of sacrifice; it means a dying to our limited notion of self and of the world in order to find our true self and our true world in Christ. The Gospel strips us of what is false and clothes us in the holiness and consolation of the truth. It bursts the bubble of the inauthentic self we so often cling to and reveals the true person God has always wanted us to become.
Only by engaging with the Gospel and by living it with humility and obedience can we discover that joy of salvation which, despite everything, the disciples experienced in today’s Gospel reading. Far from being the enemy of our human happiness and fulfilment, obedience to the Gospel is its guarantee. The saints and martyrs galore are the proof of that. If their names are written in heaven, why on earth can’t ours be too?