Our Lord has given us a mandate: what we have heard here, whispered among believers, we are to go out and proclaim on the housetops, to announce to the world. This mandate is not just given to missionaries or priests; it is for everyone. Each one of us, baptized as sons and daughters of God, re-made in the image of Christ, are called to fulfill this command to share the Good News with the whole world.
When we think about this mission in which each of us shares, several challenges come to mind. The first might be, “What do I say?” We can find a model for the message we are to share in today’s epistle from St. Paul to the Romans. Paul recounts the story of salvation history: sin and death entered the world through Adam. Our fallen human nature, prone to sin and death because of Adam and Eve’s original sin, was not how God intended things to be. And even though our first human parents fell through sin, and even though we, influenced by the effects of their sin, so often fall as well, God was not content to leave us in the mire of sin. He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, who is God Himself, to redeem us from our sins!
“But,” St. Paul points out, “the gift is not like the transgression.” It would be easy for us to think of this divine action of redemption like balancing an equation in algebra class. God made us, we sinned, then God redeemed us – just leveling the scales. But that is not how things have worked at all! God’s redeeming love – shared with us on the Cross – is far greater than any sin we could ever commit! The scales do not balance at all, but that is okay. It is “okay” because God’s logic is not our logic. His math is not our math. Through “the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ,” the new Adam, sent to redeem the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, graced has “overflow[ed] for the many.”
This is the message that we are sent to share with the world: that sin and death are never the end of the story. God’s redemption in Jesus Christ is greater than our human folly. The Cross is more powerful than human weakness.
There is a problem, though, with this message, that maybe you have picked up on. We live in a world that does not really believe in sin! As a society, we lack a sense of sin, our consciences so warped by their habitual self-justification that we are losing a basic sense of right and wrong. So how do we spread the loving message of Christ’s redemption to a culture that thinks that it has no need of being redeemed?
The answer, I am convinced, always starts with ourselves. We need to look at ourselves and see where we have given in to self-justification or making excuses rather than accepting Christ’s infinite mercy for our faults. Being justified by God is way better than being justified by ourselves, but we know that it can be hard for us to admit our faults. So we have to start with ourselves. We have to look at ourselves and search our hearts and our consciences to know where it is that we have been holding back, where we have been hesitant to let God’s light shine. We have to conquer our fear.
Fear is the next big challenge to proclaiming the message of Christ from the housetops. He knows that we face fear in our hearts, which is why He tells us today, “And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Genenna.” Now, we might want to say, “Jesus, those are not very comforting words! You acknowledge that we are afraid your love and redemption from the housetops of our world, and you respond by saying we should be afraid of the Devil? What is up with that?”
This is why it is so important that we start by looking at ourselves. If we have a clear conscience – if we are sure that we are not holding anything back from the Lord – then we have absolutely nothing to fear from Satan. “If God is for us,” St. Paul says, “who can be against us?” On the other hand, if we fail to acknowledge Christ before others, then we do have something to fear from Satan, because if we fail to confess Christ before others, we are giving him an opening to work not only in the hearts of others, but in our hearts as well. “Woe to me,” St. Paul says, “if I do not preach the Gospel!” Thus it is essential that we be strong in and knowledgeable about our faith – prepared to give an account of the hope that is in us – in order not to give into fear. Satan loves to use fear to trip us up, but if we have God on our side, we have nothing to fear at all.
This is another place where can be tempted to view the world as a balance between good and evil, one time tipping one direction and at other times tipping in the other. Or like a yin and yang, good and evil held in the balance. But this is not a Christian view of the world! God’s power is far greater than Satan’s; there is so much more good than evil in the world! It is for us to find that goodness and proclaim it for all to hear!
Once we know the message we are to proclaim and have overcome our own fears, our next question might be, “to whom am I called to proclaim this message?” I want to suggest that you do not need to go very far. I want to share with you the story of a young man I know; we will call him James. James went to Catholic school all through grade school, as have his brothers and sisters. At a certain point, though, his family stopped going to Mass on Sundays but kept sending their children to Catholic schools. James, though, by the grace of God, became involved with a group of his grade school friends in a small group discipleship program for teens, and his friends and group leaders encouraged him to go to Mass on Sunday. He is now there every week, even though the majority of his family stays home. I cannot imagine how difficult it would be as a high-schooler to go to Mass every Sunday without the support of my family, but he does it. By his simple action of leaving for Mass every Sunday morning, he proclaims Christ from the housetops within his family.
Most of us deal with a culture of silence about faith in our families and in our world. Maybe you’re the only one of your siblings still going to Mass regularly. Maybe your family members (or friends, or co-workers) do go to Mass, but they are not really interested in more. Maybe you are not really interested in more. How many times have you had conversations with someone you saw as deeply religious and thought, “Man, she needs to tone it down! I’m Catholic too, but that’s just a bit much.” That is the culture of silence at work. The culture of silence says, “It’s okay to be religious, but it’s not really polite to talk about.” There’s an old British saying to this effect: “Principles are like prayers, noble, of course, but awkward at a party.”
Christ is calling us today to shatter this culture of silence present within our families, amongst our friends, and even among those of us here who prefer our religion to be a polite affair rather than a bold adventure. We need to set aside our fear of talking about our faith, our fear of being that person whose piety is admirable but inconvenient. When we do so, it is true that we will face rejection. At times, we will be like St. Paul preaching in Athens. The Athenians listened with interest as Paul told them about Christ, but when He got to the part about Christ being raised from the dead, that was just too much to handle for them and they politely told him, “We would prefer to hear about this another time.” But let me tell you what, my brothers and sisters, history has forgotten the names of those feeble and unimaginative (but polite!) Athenians, but it will never forget the name of Paul of Tarsus!
On that day in Athens, when Paul was rejected, one man came forth, Dionysius, who became one of Paul’s greatest disciples, who himself converted thousands more to the faith and is now revered as a saint. The awkwardness and embarrassment we feel when others prefer the culture of silence to the bold witness of evangelizers is part of the offering we make to the Lord for them, out of our love for those children of God. This week I want to challenge you: have at least one conversation with someone else – a friend, family member, or someone you’ve never met before – about your faith.
It is the love of God that compels us to preach Christ from the housetops. Ask God today to increase your love for your families, your friends, your fellow parishioners, and those with whom you will come into contact this week in order to overcome your fears to boldly proclaim Christ to a world so desperately in need of His love.
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
St. John the Evangelist Parish, Goshen
XII Sunday through the Year, A.D. MMXVII