"The Gospel message of Christ is a melody that can be taken up and played anew by every generation"
The apostles Barnabas and Paul, travelled from city to city. Most likely they would start at the local synagogue and announce that the Messiah had finally come. They would spend the sabbath there, preaching. They spend the following week talking to individuals and families so that by the time the sabbath comes around again, the synagogue is crammed with people who want to hear them.
They must have been thrilled with their success. But the leaders of the synagogue became jealous, afraid the the apostles were stealing their power and authority. A shouting match broke out and the two saints were kicked out. They were locked out of the group of “movers and shakers.”
How did they react? Did they complain? Did they give up? No, they just started preaching to the Gentiles instead, confident that God would bless their efforts.
They were successful at this as well and began to attract people from the whole region. But again, as they grew more popular, they were perceived as a threat by those in power. An organized resistance was raised against them and they were expelled from the entire region.
But Our Lord prepared them for this, when they are rejected for speaking the Truth, they simply knock the dust of that region off their sandals, and head to the next city.
We see this pattern of opposition even today. When a person, or a ministry, or a parish begins to gain some ground for God, it is attacked. But suffering and opposition are daily bread for Christians, just as they were for Christ. Only by persevering through the cross can we come to the Resurrection; only by enduring Good Friday can we celebrate Easter.
We owe our faith and hope to the perseverance of missionaries who, like Barnabas and Paul, carried the torch of truth and grace courageously, never backing down in the face of difficulties, just as Christ Himself never backed down.
The torch has now been passed to us, God has entrusted the light of His Gospel to us.
What is our job?
There was one a young salesman who lost a large sale. He was meeting with his boss afterward and lamented the situation saying, “I guess it's true, you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink.”
The young man's boss looked at him for a moment and then said, “son take my advice, your job isn't to make them drink, your job is to make them thirsty.”
Every Christian is a missionary. Each one of us is called to bring the light we have received into the lives of those around us, into our communities, work places, families, and schools. Every Christian is called to make people thirsty for the Truth. To do this we must be creative.
Transposing the Gospel
In the 1996 film Mr. Holland's Opus, actor Richard Dreyfus plays a music teacher who is having difficulty reaching his students. Holland loves classical music, but his young students are not interested in long dead composers or their old fashioned music. One day Mr. Holland begins to play a hit pop song. The students immediately perk up, tapping their feet and nodding their heads to the rhythm of the music. The teacher then reveals that this hit pop song is a transposition of Beethoven. It is Beethoven's music, set to a rock beat and played with electric guitars instead of violins. All of a sudden, a long dead composer becomes relevant to the young students.
Christianity is based on timeless truths, truths that speak to all people of all times. But to get the people to listen, we have to be creative. The Gospel message of Christ is a melody that can be taken up and played anew by every generation, using new instruments and new tools that speak to the people of the time, their issues, and the day to day problems they face.
Like Barnabas and Paul, the work of the Christian is to evangelize the world. But we must begin by meeting people where they are, respecting their traditions and beliefs. As missionaries spread the Gospel throughout the world they began to encounter cultures outside of the Judeo-Christian tradition, people who had no knowledge of the One, True God. The missionaries would seek common ground, shared beliefs, and “transpose” the Gospel message to something the people would relate to.
The ninth century Saxon epic, The Heliand, retells the life of Christ. But it does so in a context that makes it understandable to the early Germanic people. Here Christ is presented as a king who leads his retainers, his disciples, into battle against satan, the enemy of mankind. The retainers are rewarded with golden arm rings and a great banquet. Nazareth, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem are recast as familiar Saxon towns.
As the Gospel spreads throughout the world, its message is retold in a language understandable to the local people. This leads to the Gospel changing the vernacular language and culture. Liturgy and the arts play the most creative role in achieving these changes.
This is our mission. Each one of us has an entirely unique circle of friends and acquaintances, an entirely unique network of relationships, and an entirely unique set of skills to reach them. If we strive every day to live as Christ taught us, giving a constant example of kindness, courage, concern for others, forgiveness, responsibility, and hard work, we will spread the light. If we stay attentive to opportunities that God sends us to speak clearly and encouragingly to others about the Gospel, to invite them to follow Christ, we will spread the light, but only if we persevere in the face of the obstacles the devil throws up to discourage us.
If we persevere, grace will win in the end, it always does.
4th Sunday in Easter
Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.organd can be reached at Lawrence@deaconlawrence.com