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Good News

Rev. Harry Currie

Jan 21, 2024

Jonah 3:1-5:10, Gospel Mark 1:14-20, Luke 10:25-37

Burkina Faso is in the Sahel region of West Africa, which extends into the neighbouring countries of Mali and Niger. It covers 174,000 km² and has 21 million inhabitants, of about 60 ethnicities. Approximately 64% of the population is Muslim, 9% adheres to traditional African religions and 26% is Christian. These three religious groups are represented in every region of the country, and in virtually every family. 

Burkina Faso is currently experiencing a serious security crisis, which affects all faith communities. After a major jihadist attack was mounted from outside the country in 2016, the security situation in Burkina Faso, and consequently its social cohesion, deteriorated dramatically. The country has endured a proliferation of terrorist attacks, lawlessness and human trafficking. This has left over 3,000 people dead and almost two million internally displaced. Thousands of schools, health centres and town halls have been closed, and much of the socio-economic and transport infrastructure has been destroyed. Attacks targeting specific ethnic groups exacerbate the risk of inter-communal conflicts. In the context of this dire threat to security, social cohesion, peace and national unity are being undermined.

Christian churches have been specifically targeted by armed attacks. Priests, pastors and catechists have been killed during worship and the fate of others who were kidnapped remains unknown. At the time of writing, more than 22% of the national territory is outside the control of the state and Christians can no longer openly practise their faith in these areas. Because of terrorism, the majority of Christian churches in the north, east and north-west of the country have been closed. There is no longer any public Christian worship in many of these areas, but where worship is still possible, with police protection, usually in large cities, services have to be shortened owing to security concerns.

Despite the instability, nevertheless, a degree of solidarity is emerging between the Christian, Muslim and traditional religions. Their leaders are working to find lasting solutions for peace, social cohesion and reconciliation. Individual churches continue to organise daily prayers and fasting. Action by the various Catholic and Protestant churches has intensified to assist displaced persons. Reflection and awareness-raising meetings have been organized to promote better understanding of the situation and of the value of fraternity, and to develop strategies for a return to lasting peace.

And what I find pretty amazing is that the scripture picked by Christians of Burkina Faso for this year’s week of prayer for Christian Unity is the story of the Good Samaritan.


This story is about loving the neighbour, something I am sure that most of us agree with.

In fact, most religions have some sort of saying, scripture, or theology about loving the neighbour, and doing good to others.

But what makes this story so interesting is that the one who helps is considered by Jews to be an enemy.

The two religious leaders of Israel passed by the wounded man on the road, either not wanted to get involved, not wanting to risk themselves, or more likely not wanting to make themselves unclean, physically or spiritually, even though the man is a Jew, one of their own.

But a Samaritan…. who was considered so unclean that a Jew would not take a drink of water from a Samaritan or eat with one….  a Samaritan who is an enemy of the Jews…is the one who helps and heals and cares and spends money and risks and sacrifices.


Imagine today a Jewish soldier in the current war with Gaza being shot and his own soldiers leaving him and running away, and one of Hamas’ soldiers being the one to save him, heal him and take him safely home to Israel.


Not very likely you say. But neither was a Samaritan helping a Jew in Jesus’ day.


Jesus surprises us with this story, but so do the Christians of Burkina Faso, dealing with so much violence, and at the hands of terrorists who espouse a different faith.

       They choose a scripture where the enemy is the hero and loving the neighbour wins out over violence. It is a statement of hope, a witness to the world.


And I think what Jesus points out and what the Christians of Burkina Faso point out is that humans are not one-dimensional.

For instance, Canada has declared Hamas a terrorist organization, and I do not doubt it.

But the people who make up Hamas have families, have relationships, do good, help the poor, and yet take up arms to fight for an independent Palestine.

They are complex individuals with lots of grievances and pain and stories, who want independence and freedom.

       I cannot for a second condone their violence, but they are not just one-sided evil monsters either.


       And the Christians of Burkina Faso must have the same kind of thinking about those who attack them, those who hurt them and kill them, that they are God’s children too.

They know that, according to Jesus, the enemy is also our neighbour and we have to work hard not to resort to violence, and work hard for reconciliation.


       I don’t know about you, but there are times I would rather just have God smite someone then have to forgive someone who doesn’t even want to be forgiven, who would just as soon beat the crap out of me, than say that they are sorry.


       Who would you like God to smite? There are certain kinds of criminals who do bad things to children. There are those who kill civilians, there are those who rape people, who rape other countries of their resources, who on the face of it seem totally despicable and beyond redemption.


       I have even seen a few politicians whom I wouldn’t mind God smiting, if only to wipe their self-centred smugness off their faces, to keep them from lying with a straight face, and to keep them from enacting policies that actually hurt the poor and the average working person, while all the while saying they stand for the poor and the working person.


Jonah, the prophet who was swallowed by a fish thought pretty much the same thing.

Smite them, Lord. Rain hellfire upon them like Sodom and Gomorrah. Jonah was referring of course to the hated Assyrians who were the ones who would destroy the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

God told Jonah to go preach to the Assyrians in Ninevah and Jonah probably said in his mind: “not bloody likely” and set off in a ship in the other direction.

Jonah was even willing to be tossed in the sea and to drown rather than listen to God’s call to preach to the Assyrians, which in all fairness would have been like asking a Jew to preach in Berlin during World War 2.


Go to the enemy and preach Jonah. And Jonah will make it very explicit later on that he doesn’t want the Assyrians to repent or be saved. He wants them to die.


Weirdly enough Jonah is probably the most successful evangelist of all time. He goes into the centre of town says five Hebrew words which translate as “Forty days more and Nineveh will be overthrown.”


And everyone repented and turned to God. Even the animals wore sackcloth and repented. One hundred and twenty thousand people repented.


And Jonah was furious with God for forgiving them, for forgiving those who would wipe out Northern Israel.

Those who read the book of Jonah years later would know what the Assyrians did to Northern Israel, and yet here this book of the bible stands as a witness to God’s mercy and love even for those who seem to be the worst of all people.


The good news is that God loves everyone.

And part of the news is that a lot of us are still like Jonah… flawed and angry and broken and limited in our grace and in our mercy.


You know that story about the Samaritan is a good story. And it is easy to see ourselves as the Samaritan. We are the one who help others.

But we are also the robbers who beat up the man. We know how to hurt and how to take.

We are also the ones who walk by and don’t get involved because we are afraid, because we are selfish, because we are self-righteous, because we are greedy, because we think we are better than others, because we think some bad people deserve it, and because we don’t care about those with whom we have great differences.

We are also the victims, the ones beat up and wounded and hurt and abandoned. We all have our own stories of pain and injustice, just as Jews and Palestinians do.

And we all have moment where we are the Samaritan and in kindness, and with humanity we reach out to others purely because they need help.


All of us have those multidimensional components of the self. Victimizer, Victim, Avoider and Helper.


Can we see that other as a human, as a neighbour, as a person with a story, as someone who needs good news?

Can we see ourselves not only as the good guy, but the bad guy who needs redemption and saving just as much as the one we have identified as our enemy.


Jesus comes preaching good news. Jesus comes and invites four fisherman to fish for people.


On the face of it, it is not maybe the most appealing metaphor, as if the church needs to hook people or net people, and pull them into the church wriggling and gasping for air, those being hooked not wanting to come.


Although maybe Jesus is just using a metaphor that the four fisherman are familiar with.


Maybe if they were farmers Jesus would say: Follow me and I will make you grow people.


Maybe on one level Jesus is saying, bring the skills of your trade, and bring your experience, and use them to care for people and help people and love.

Whoever you are, wherever you are, however you are bring what you have and help people.


Maybe that is what Jesus is meaning.


But there are a couple of historical things to note about fishing.

Fishing at the time of Jesus was highly regulated by the Romans. Caesar owned the waters. One had to get licences and one had to pay taxes. Fishing without a licence was illegal.

Most of the fish was exported for wealthy people to eat and many of the local communities didn’t get much of the fish that was actual caught in their waters.


       The second historical thing was that catching people by a fishhook was not new. It was found in the Old Testament in the books of Amos and Ezekiel was a metaphor for judgement upon the rich.


       So, the call to leave their nets and fish for people could be interpreted in light of these two historical pieces of information, might be a call to leave the existing order of power, privilege, exploitation and domination and participate in a new order where we care for people and bless people and free people and heal people.


And Jesus brings good news.


I can’t say that Pope Benedict was my favourite Pope, but he did write something one time about the good news of Jesus.

He wrote that when the evangelists used the term evangel or good news, they were using a term that the Roman emperors used. The messages issued by the emperors were called evangelium, whether the message was good news or not.

For Jesus to give the evangel or good news was to say that the emperors didn’t and Jesus did. The point is that the emperors can’t save the world but Jesus can.

The good news was not only good news, but subversive of the power of the emperor, for God in Jesus was the real power.


So, what is the good news?

That’s the $64,000 question.

That’s what we used to say when there was a tv show called the $64,000 question some 60 years ago or more.


Maybe we say it is the million-dollar question today.


What is the good news?

The thing about the good news is that everyone seems to have their own version of the good news.

Jesus is so influential, so all-encompassing, so involved in all of life, that that good news seems to touch people in many ways.

       For some it is Jesus saves us from our sins. For some it is about freedom. For some it is about love.

In fact, we have four different gospels who each present the good news in their own way.


Matthew what is the good news?

And Matthew says: Jesus came to show people how to live.

       If you follow Jesus your actions will show it. There will be an ethical and moral difference in your life. You will love your neighbour and God.

       You care about the difference between good and bad and you will try and do what is right.

       When Jesus comes in the clouds of glory he is going to ask you: Did you help the hungry and clothe the naked and look after strangers? Did you try and do what is right all the time?


Luke what is the good news?

And Luke says: The Good news is that Jesus' love includes everyone

       If you want to follow him then love everyone and help the poor and the hurting and the disenfranchised and the forgotten and the excluded and the sinners because they all have a place with Jesus.


Mark what is the good news?    And Mark says:

Jesus is Lord of all and he fights against all evil and wickedness and he takes up his cross and suffers to save us. Therefore, I will follow him and obey him. Like him I will fight against evil. Like him I will suffer for others and take up my cross for peace and justice and for love.


John what is the good news? And John says:

You can die to self and be born again to live in Jesus and know Jesus. Get to know him. Talk to him and Jesus will never leave you or forsake you. Jesus will live in you and you can abide in him, and if you do you will have love for one another.


The late Frederick Buechner wrote about the good news and I am editing a bit here.

It is the news that we are sinners, to use the old word, that we are evil in the imagination of our hearts. That is the tragedy. But it is also the news that we are loved anyway, cherished, forgiven, bleeding to be sure, but also bled for. That is the comedy. And yet, so what? In answer, the news of the Gospel is that extraordinary things happen to us just as in fairy tales extraordinary things happen. All together they are the truth.  


For the church in Burkina Faso the good news is about loving the neighbour and the enemy and working together for reconciliation and for peace.


For Karl Barth maybe one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century when asked to sum up his theology he said: Jesus loves me, this I know. And the bible tells me so.


For Harry the central message is that God is love; and that God loves you, and invites you to know that love and live in that love; and like God, love all people

But the real question to leave here with is this. If someone asked you what the good news is, what would you say?                       


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