the good news in hard places
[Jesus] went to nazareth…and on the sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. and he stood up to read. the scroll of the prophet isaiah was handed to him. unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
“the Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
he has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. the eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them,”today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
last week i had the privilege of hanging out with some friends who are part of center for transforming mission up in tacoma. it is a long story how it all came about, but it was one of those weird moments where it becomes clear that somehow, some way, you’re “supposed” to know some of these people. these folks have been in the trenches a long, long time with people in hard, hard, hard places, mainly in urban & youth contexts around the world. it is funny because in my typical “i am not sure if i really belong” ways i kept thinking “but the hard places i am at is the suburbs & that doesn’t really count because it’s not the ‘real deal’ of the inner city.” but as the days unfolded it was blaringly clear–our issues & struggles with working on the margins are pretty much the same. the intensity of what it means to actually live incarnationally in the tough & brutal places of real people’s lives is our common thread. and een though it all looks a little different, we’re all in the same crazy boat.
a question that CTM asks a lot is “where is the good news in hard places?” at face value, we can just skim over it and give it a trite “Jesus is in all the hard places!” answer. but if we take a little closer look, i think it becomes a powerful & scary question. you see, i think it’s easy to talk about the good news in the average life of the average 1st world christian. we can attribute being “blessed” with a car & a house & a job & kids & a cool church & the land of opportunity to God. we are thankful that the good news brought more hope and purpose and meaning into a life that would have not been nearly as full without it.
the gospel of hope, the good news, is for all people in all places. the poor, the broken, the needy, the desperate, the sick, the struggling, the hurting, the spiritually bankrupt, the humbled–not just in my backyard but around the world, people of all shapes and sizes and colors and experiences, this is who the good news was for. the problem is that sometimes in this crazy mixed up world, the good news is just plain harder to see. we have come to associate “blessing” with tangible things that equate to relief & ease. i think the prosperity gospel has tried to hijack the true message of Jesus, the bearer of good news who made it clear that in this world we’d have much trouble because of our faith & not a smooth ride, that amassing stuff was a waste of time, and humbling ourselves to the lowest places following his example was more important than gaining power & success in the world’s (and also the church’s) eyes. over and over in the scriptures Jesus talks about the ways of the kingdom being harder, but that in the midst God’s presence would bring hope & healing & light into the deepest darkness. i am not dismissing that God works in all kinds of ways & one of the ways he brings hope to the hungry is through actual food, as in real-true-blue-rice-and-beans, but i also have to reckon with the reality of this broken world that there are many many many people starving to death right now and no food is coming. what’s the good news for them?
where’s the good news in the garbage dump in guatemala city, where thousands of men, women & children live? where’s the good news to the life-in-prison gang banger? where’s the good news to the woman who was just sexually assaulted? where’s the good news when the baby you dreamed for and started to love dies inside you? where’s the good news when your husband just beat the crap out of you and hid the car keys & all your money? where’s the good news when your company just went bankrupt and you lost your job and can’t feed your family? where’s the good news when you hear the words “i want a divorce.”? where’s the good news in an AIDS orphanage in africa? where’s the good news in the midst of debilitating mental illness that isn’t going to go away with the perfect pharmaceutical cocktail?
don’t for a minute think i am going to try to answer this question with something simple. i don’t think it’s possible. but there’s no doubt in my mind that somehow the good news is present in the hardest of places. Jesus came for the sick. he mingled with lepers. he dined with the outcasts. he made himself the lowest of the low & subjected himself to torture and cruelty. in this scripture from luke 4/isaiah 61 (one of my all time favs!), he makes clear his purpose. almost everything about Jesus’ ministry in the gospels was the incarnation of the good news in hard places.
i don’t live in the projects, the slums, or an orphanage. i will never be able to presume to know exactly what that feels like when i lay may head down on my soft fluffy pillow in my nice house in the burbs. but my faith requires me to reckon with their reality and never for a minute dismiss the pain & struggle of my brothers and sisters in hard places. in my current life i am exposed to the unseen dark places of the suburbs. so where is it, where is the good news in hard places? i am certain my response is incomplete, but i can say that it seems like the good news is found in a strange combination of God’s supernatural spirit at work & the tangible presence of people. we can’t take care of how God will move, but we do know that Jesus called us to love tangibly. 1 john 3:18 reminds us: “dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” this is why it feels so important in all kinds of ways that as christ-followers we become people willing to go to the darkest of darkest of places with others, no matter where that place happens to be in terms of world geography.
we can impose what we think is good news in hard places but the truth is only people in those places can really say. if i take stock of the words i have heard over the years & from my own experience in my own hard and dark places, here’s the thing that seems to ring the most true: “God has reminded me through people that he hasn’t abandoned me in the midst of my darkest hours. even when it felt like it. even when everything indicated that he had. i somehow knew i wasn’t alone. i saw little slivers of light here and there and they sustained me.”
no neat & tidy wraps on this one, i just wanted to toss out the thought & as always, i love to hear from you. to me, the good news is God’s hope in places where there seems to be none. that is why i believe so strongly in the supernatural ways of Jesus–i have seen and tasted and experienced and heard of glimpses of hope in situations where it seems that there absolutely, positively should not be any. those glimpses help me believe. they help remind me, yes, some how, some way, the good news is present in hard, hard, hard places.