The Word is not a word; the Word is a person: Jesus of Nazareth
So you’re walking down the street and the flying saucer lands in front of you. The hatch of the saucer opens, and the little green man walks out and walks up to you and says, “Hey, back home on Mars we keep hearing about the Gospel, this Good News. What’s that?”
And you say to the little green man?
We sometimes get tongued tied and befuddled when trying to define just what the Gospel is. We start using churchy language that only requires further definition or refinement and thus removes us yet another step away from the original question: what is the Gospel? Furthermore, since we Christians have heard and used the term all our lives, we banter it about, because we know that our fellow Christians will understand what we mean.
But fewer people are Christian these days. Words and phrases we use without thinking are lost on more and more people; lost on them not because they are stupid, but because they don’t know our vocabulary. As Christians, we might just as well be talking to…a Martian.
Think of it this way. In the following sentence, define the word man: “Oh, man, that was a great game last night!”
Now, you know what the sentence means, and you know the sentiment behind the use of the word manin that sentence. But what isit? What’s its definition?
And that’s my point: we use the word Gospel so much and in so many various ways that the word itself can become invisible to us Christians, but to outsiders it’s a question of “Uh?” For example:
“Hey, Father, where’s the Book of the Gospels?”
“I’m telling you the gospel truth, here!”
“The Gospel of the Lord.”
“Do you accept the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ?”
Every group, every profession has its own argot, its own patois. Carpentry, plumbing, and insurance have its own language, phrases and idioms peculiar to that profession. Christianity is no different. The word “gospel” is just one example.
True, you could look up the word “gospel” in the Catechism. Here is the first sentence of the definition of the word “gospel” in the glossary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The ‘good news’ of God’s mercy and love revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.”
You might be saying to yourself: “Yeah, so? Pretty straight forward.”
Well, it is to you and me. But I’ve read that line to people (students and adults) who follow no religion or who are marginally Christian. Here are some of their responses to that sentence from the Catechism:
Why do I need God’s mercy?
Why is that good news? Isn’t God supposed to love us?
What does “revealed” mean?
If the New Evangelization is to get traction and make disciples of all nations, then I suggest one of things we need to do is work on our vocabulary. This does not mean to “dumb it down.” It means we have to communicate. Church language is often a segue into Strother Martin’s line from the film Cool Hand Luke: “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” Once a person is ensconced in the faith the patois will follow.
Jesus is the perfect model for this. Jesus told stories, used images and spoke idioms his audience could readily understand and identify with. “A man had two sons…” What woman having two coins…” “A man gave a great dinner to which he invited many…” “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do…” “Quiet! Come out of him!”
Jesus also said, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and observe it.” (Lk 11:28) Note the two verbs: hear, observe. Observing the Word of God is dependent upon hearing it. We cannot expect those we evangelize to observe the Word of God if they cannot hear the Word due to not understanding what we’re saying to them.
But the good news is that the Word is not a word; the Word is a person: Jesus of Nazareth, the anointed one of God. A person who was, is and ever will be God. Your job and my job is to maneuver people into such a position that he or she will hear Jesus speaking to them. And the good news there is when that man or that woman hears Jesus speak, the odds are good they will listen, as you and I have listened. And then?
When we die…we won’t stay dead.
That’s the Gospel.
That’s the Good News.