Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out … so they set off to preach repentance. (Mark 6:7,13)
There’s been a lot of bad news in the press in the past few days. There always is, of course. Bad News always seems to be more interesting that Good News. But the past few weeks have been exceptional. There has been the terrible terrorist attack in Tunisia, and now the flying home of all British people who remain there. There has been the ongoing saga of the financial problems of Greece, and the extra-ordinary difficulties they are encountering by the closure of the banks and the shortages of medicines and other essential items. And this week there has been the considerable anxiety caused by the proposed changes in the budget and the pressure this will put especially on working families on low income. There will certainly be more need of, and more recourse to the food banks and other forms of assistance. Bad news all round.
So what would we think of as being “Good News”?
Well, we could think of many examples. Good news is the surprise lottery win, the announcement of a birth or a forthcoming marriage, being given the all clear, England winning the Ashes, (though not - this year at least, Wimbledon), getting the grades for a university place or success in a job interview. In many cases, these are the deserved results of our own efforts, yet in all of them Good News is also a pleasant surprise, a blessing, something that happens to us, it is gift, it is grace.
Today, we hear, Jesus sends out the Twelve in pairs to preach the Gospel. The Good News. [The word “Gospel” is a very old English word meaning “God’s word”, or “Good News”. It translates the Greek word ευανγελιον, “Good Message”, - from which we get the English “evangelist”, the name for the writer of the Gospels]
Yet what sort of Good News is this? To be sure, the Apostles come to give comfort and healing to the sick. Yet here, in this Gospel, the message is a hard one - one of repentance, contrition, sorrow for sins. It is not unremitting joy, at least not at first. It challenges us - something we have to do, and something which is painful - to admit our own fault, to confess our sins, to acknowledge our failures, our impatience, our dishonesty, our unkindnesses and cruelties. It might be necessary - but how can this be a message to preach. How can this be Gospel? How can this be Good News?
Well it can - it is - of course it is - because what the Twelve are sent out to preach with such urgency is not the wickedness of the world, not the darkness of man’s inhumanity to man, not financial crisis or hardship - but greatness of God’s mercy.
They move from house to house and place to place rapidly, wasting no time with those who do not want to here because they are there not to condemn but to give the offer of a Great Gift, the Gift of Forgiveness, a Gift which is freely given by God to everyone who embraces it, and this gift heals minds and hearts, casts out anxiety and soothes infirmity.
It is a Gift that is easily refused, yet easy to accept. Because all we need to do to receive this great gift of God, the Gift of Forgiveness, the Gift of Healing, the Gift of Peace - is to accept that we need to be forgiven, we need to be healed, we need to welcome into our troubled hearts this promise of Peace.