Tuesday, January 23, 2024

When the Going Gets Tough...


Mark 1:14-20

Epiphany 3 / Year B

“After John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.”

Somewhere around the turn of the last century a football coach is said to have told his team, “When the going gets tough… the tough get going.”  The first printed reference of this quote appeared in the Corpus Christi Times in 1953, again referencing a speech by a local football coach.  Since then, any number of people in any number of fields, from business leaders to motivational speakers to clergy like me, has drawn on it to inspire people facing challenging circumstances.

Now, certainly Jesus didn’t know the expression, “when the going gets tough…”, but he did have this to draw on from the Book of Proverbs:

The wicked flee when no one pursues,

  but the righteous are bold as a lion.  (28:1)

Perhaps this is why, on learning his cousin John the Baptist has been arrested, Jesus decides to return to Galilee – the very region ruled by John’s imprisoner. 

From the outset of his story, everything in Mark’s gospel happens quickly.  It begins not with a birth narrative, like Mathew and Luke, but with a title:

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

It then launches into the message John proclaims at the Jordon River.  At verse 9 Jesus appears and is baptized.  It takes Mark just five verses to tell us about this moment and how immediately afterward Jesus goes out into the wilderness to be tempted.  The comes verse 14 with the information Jesus returns to Galilee, his home, after learning of John’s arrest.

Now, we would not be surprised if Jesus went back and laid low; doing everything possible to keep his neck out of the noose.  Heck, we wouldn’t be surprised if he stayed as far away from Galilee as possible; a lesson he would have learned from his father, who upon returning from exile in Egypt and learning Herod’s son is ruling over the region of Bethlehem, takes his family to Galilee in order to be out of harm’s way.  And while we might think it unwise, we would not be completely shocked if Jesus went back home to call out the injustice of John’s arrest.  Jesus does none of these things.

Here is what he does:

“Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’”

Good news?  When John has been arrested?  When Roman soldiers brutally occupy the land?  When self-serving religious leaders fleece the flock rather than tend to it?  How can anyone talk about good news when bad news is rampant?  Well, Jesus can talk about it because he knows God is beginning to do something special.  He can feel deep in his spirit; a spirit which has been filled with the Holy Spirit.  The kingdom of God has come near, he says, and nothing can be more consequential and restorative than this.

This passage provides a wonderful lens through which we can reflect on where we are as parish at the occasion of our Annual Meeting.  Each of your wardens – Joby and Bill – present a similar theme in their reports to you.  They write about our building and attendance challenges, acknowledging the impact each has had on the Vestry’s morale.  This is the bad news.  The good news is found in eight new acolytes, an active youth group, beautiful, inspiring music from the organ and choir, enthusiastic hospitality after church, a talented and dedicated staff, faithful lay volunteers, the financial boost we receive from a well-managed, well-funded endowment, your financial generosity… I could go on and on.  This is the message I want to proclaim to you as we begin 2024 (the 382nd year of our existence): the kingdom of God is near.

Yes, it is the same message Jesus brought to Galilee.  And he knows while he may be the standard bearer of the good news, but he cannot be the only one to announce it.  He begins to gather followers who will learn to live into the good news so more and more people will be caught up in it.  We need people here to live into the good news which is God’s presence in our midst.

If truth be told, three years from now, when Jesus is crucified, by objective standards very little will have changed.  Yes, a few people will have been healed, a handful of demons will have been banished, several thousand people will have heard Jesus teach, but the bad news will still remain.  Only through the power of the Resurrection and the imparting of the Holy Spirit will a mighty movement arise which will change the world.  We pray as we remain faithful to the good news in our lives God’s Spirit will rise up and lighten this darkened world of ours. 

When the going gets tough… the tough proclaim good news!