Peter: “It is impossible for us for us not to speak
about what we have seen and heard.”
Jesus: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the
Gospel to every creature.”
Something has happened in the nearly 2,000 years since these episodes
occurred. Today religion is a private matter, not to be discussed,
because it is said to be divisive. Besides, if it is about me and
my relationship to God, what’s to discuss? My relationship
is not your relationship, and the two are bound to be different.
As today’s readings make clear, the earliest Christians thought
religion was something quite different. Jesus’ words in the
Gospel can be paraphrased as “Go out to the whole world. Proclaim
the good news of God’s victory to all creation.” And
clearly Peter says he just cannot be quiet about that good news,
irrespective of what the authorities demand. Has Jesus’ command
If we understood, as Peter did, that God has won – that sin
and death, which seem to flood our world today (as they did 2,000
years ago), no longer have power over us – how could we be
silent? In Jesus, God reaches out to “all creatures”.
Our vocation, as his disciples, is to do the same. Nothing less.
Religion – Christianity – is not about saving me, it
is about saving our world. A big job, certainly. But God has already
won in Jesus; our part is to spread the word, to let our brothers
and sisters know that they have a choice, and to show by our lives
of joy and humility and self-giving what that victory is all about.
Yes, religion is divisive. That is because it is important. One
theme that runs through all the New Testament books, from the infancy
narratives of the Gospels to the missionary work of Paul, is that
when God’s way is proclaimed, there are two reactions: Some
accept it with joy, while others turn away, often with hate. Jesus,
Himself, said that he had come to bring a sword into society.
There are no rules about how we are to proclaim the good news. Surely,
however, without our being pushy, our sisters and brothers in secular
society need to know that we believe in a God who is pure self-giving
love. They need to see that we are honest and that we seek the good
of others. Those are powerful proclamations.
An Omaha Diocesan priest told me a story two years ago that illustrates
perfectly what that can mean. In the midst of the publicity about
the Church’s sexual abuse scandal, his parish RCIA class was
nevertheless full, and he asked one couple why they had come. They
told him simply: “We live next door to a family that belongs
to this parish; they had something we didn’t.”
“Go out to the whole world. Proclaim the good news of God’s
victory to all creatures.”