How do you get your news? Today, maybe your phone. Or turned on the TV. Twenty years ago did you read the paper? I remember my dad listening to the radio while he worked in the barn. That’s how he got his news. Do you remember the news reels at the beginning of movies?
My grandmother taught me young how to get news. You sneakily lift up the telephone receive to listen into the party-line for news. Make sure you cover your mouth so no one hears your breath! And turn the thing upside down away from your mouth!
Telegrams and bulletins posted at the post office used to give news. Before that, news would be tacked to the church doors, or read from the pulpit with announcements. News could also spread with town criers – who went around crying out the news. Calling it loudly. There was also bards who traveled, singing songs from one town to the next telling stories. And there were messenger pigeons and smoke signals and sigils on rocks or paint in caves, hieroglyphics on tombs and steles of stone piles.
We humans love to communicate to one another!
One such mode of communication was the evangelist. His job, in the ancient world, was to stand in the middle of town and yell out the official news. The official Roman news often went a bit like this…
“HEAR YE, HEAR YE! In honor of the Caesar’s Nephew’s Birthday, free bread is available to all citizens of Rome, courtesy of the Apollo Baker’s Guild. Freed men, slaves, and subjects may pick up scraps after dark. Praise Caesar – the Son of God! HEAR YE, HEAR YE! Good news! Glorious Rome was victorious in capturing the land of Judea. Judean slaves will be available for purchase as early as next week. Caesar is our light upon a hill bringing good news to all nations. HEAR YE, HEAR YE…”
The good news from the evangelists was rarely good news to the average Israelite. They were not Roman citizens. They did not want to be ruled by Rome. They didn’t want to worship Caesar, or his gods, or his family, and he sure didn’t feel like a shining sun or lamp upon the country.
The king Caesar put in place over the people was King Herod (one of a few by this name.) His job was to keep the people placated, not organized around any particular leader but Caesar, and not challenging Rome. Herod gave money to expand the temple to let the people worship… but he also was working at getting Roman gods into the Jewish temple. (This will later cause a riot.)
At the time of John in the scene, John is the current rabble raiser that is giving Herod a headache. He’s getting people together, calling them from their apathy, and making them picture a different world.
Luke also calls him an evangelist. Calls him the official guy giving the good news out. This immediately implies several big political statements…
Human Caesar’s news is not good news.
John is working for the True Caesar – the True King.
Caesar is a false king.
John is spreading the messages of the True Son of God.
Caesar is not the Son of God.
Caesar is mortal.
Caesar is fallible.
Caesar is … killable. Replaceable.
This is sedition! This is challenging Caesar for rule! This is dangerous, political, rebellious talk.
This is very good news to the poor, the weak, the outcasts… this is very bad news to the rich, the strong, the in-crowd.
Is it any wonder why John is swiftly murdered?!
But John was walking in the footsteps of the prophets before him who were opposing all powers that promote apathy and indifference.
Our Prophetic reading today is the very end of the book of Zephaniah. The rest of the book is about how the country got into this position of needing saved. The ancient Israelites came to believe God didn’t matter to their daily lives, combined their religion with others and said there’s no real difference between this religion or that, were complacent, had corrupt leaders, and permitted injustice.
People weren’t evil… just indifferent. Truly, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
So good men and women of Israel did nothing… and evil took over, and suffering increased, and religion became weak. People minded their own business. This means ignoring the plight of others. This means ignoring evil. Doing nothing assists evil as it targets the weak.
Therefore, Zephaniah prophesizes a terrible, awful, horrific Day of the Lord when everything is turned on its heads. Creation suffers because of human apathy to evil. He foresees great environmental destruction, and wars, and death. If you want a fire and brimstone prophecy – turn to the book of Zephaniah.
But it ends with the verses we heard today… REJOICE. Why rejoice?! Because God is doing a new thing. God is coming into the midst of us to set things right. God judges us, but also forgives us. God is showing special favor to the people society, or we, hurt — the outcasts. The handicapped. The meek. The weak. And God is turning everything topsy-turvy. So we hear elsewhere – the rich made poor, the poor made rich, the proud humbled, the shamed given pride. A leveling of all people. An equaling. A making us all brothers and sisters and no more slaves and kings. Reminding us that we ARE each other’s business. And what hurts one, hurts all. What honors one, honors all.
John continues this theme of get moving and stop being apathetic. Giving up only helps evil. Do something! Do good! Bear good fruit!
I like that the crowd asks for John to tell them what to do. It gives us insight into John’s thinking about how to cure apathy. John doesn’t tell the people to give up their lives. “Tax collectors are not called to sever their relationship with Rome, nor are the soldiers exhorted to lives of pacifism. Even in light of impending eschatological [Day of the Lord] judgment, they are called to serve where they are; to take their stand for neighbor amid, rather than apart from, the turbulence and trouble of the present age; and to do good because, rather than in spite, of their compromised positions. By sandwiching such ordinary instruction amid eschatological warning and messianic expectation, Luke’s John hallows the mundane elements of daily life… the crowds hear John speak of a role in the coming kingdom they can play.
It demands neither renunciation nor asceticism, neither pilgrimage nor sacrifice. Rather, participating in God’s new kingdom is available to them where they are, requiring only the modicum of faith necessary to perceive the sacred in the ordinary.
It is, in short, entirely within their reach: “Share. Be fair. Don’t bully.” It may not be heroic, but it is something they can do. It is something, when you think about it, that anyone can do. Which means that it is something we can do, too.
“So with many other exhortations, John proclaimed the good news to the people.” Good news, indeed.” ((David Lose))
Although it would be great if you could sell all you own and give it to the poor… although it would be great if you could donate a kidney, give plasma and blood, and open your house to every homeless in the nation… although it would be amazing if you could cure cancer, end world hunger, and cause world peace…
… Just because you can’t doesn’t mean do nothing.
John says: work where you are. Do all the good you can where you are with what you have.
Mother Theresa said, “Do small things with great love.” Small things – noticing people. “The biggest disease today,” she once said, “is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for and deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference toward one’s neighbor who lives at the roadside, assaulted by exploitation, corruption, poverty and disease.”
The Good News is you have an important role in God’s kin-dom… and all it requires is for you to do SOMETHING instead of sitting around doing nothing. It means share. Be fair. Don’t bully. It means love, help others, take notice. It means listen. Don’t tune out. Care.
Evil hates us doing deeds. Remember, evil stays in power by making us feel powerless. Evil spreads when we do nothing. When we do good, it not only stops evil, but reduces it. Others see our good. Others feel empowered. Others do more good.
The evangelist comes with truly good news – joyful news – you matter! You matter because you matter to God! You matter, you are loved, so go and make others matter, let others know they are loved!
Your faith can move mountains.
It may just move them one tiny pebble of a good deed at a time.
Rejoice! Be the church!