“How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who bring good news, good news. Announcing peace, proclaiming news of happiness, our God reigns, our God reigns.” I first heard this hymn at the International Charismatic Conference in Dublin in 1978 and it has been a favourite of mine ever since. The words come from Isaiah 52:7 and what sweet music they were for those in exile in Babylon. It must have been a wonderful sight to see this harbinger of good news striding across the mountains, announcing peace, happiness and the reign of God once more. That phrase, ‘our God reigns’, should not be taken for granted. In those days, each nation had its own god and exile in Babylon meant that the god of Babylon had overcome the God of his Israel. But now that their God reigns once more one can expect peace and stability again.
Great as this news was, the news of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, is far greater. St. Paul implies that the free gift of grace far surpasses the trespass. The apostles were utterly convinced that Jesus was the one. He could transform peoples’ lives just their lives were transformed. All they had to do was introduce Jesus to others and he would take over in their lives. This was how Peter dealt with the cripple at the Temple gate: “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!” It was just as simple and as profound as that. The man got up and walked and we too, with Jesus, can all walk and climb the mountain of the Lord and see all that God has prepared for us.
The apostles were convinced that the greatest gift you could give a person was faith in Jesus Christ. Faith gives us a whole new way of looking at the world and seeing the bigger picture. In this faith world, Jesus has already overcome the powers of darkness. Goodness is winning and God is on our side and is determined to lead us into future glory. Having faith means we can chill out from time to time because it doesn’t all depend on us anymore. God is in charge. And so, there is every reason to be joyful and happy because our God reigns. ‘All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.’ (Julian of Norwich).
This is the kind of news we cannot keep to ourselves and it behoves all Christians to be witnesses to Jesus. The days of leaving it to the professionals are over. The Second Vatican Council put paid to that by teaching us that every Christian should give a living witness to Christ, at least through living a life of faith and charity and by joining in worship and prayer. And if you are wondering how can I do that, well listen to Pope Paul VI who says: “the primary means of evangelisation is the witness of an authentic Christian life.” This means that we can preach the gospel with our lives. By simply following Jesus and taking to heart his words and his vision, we are already proclaiming him — so much so that others cannot but take notice. As St. Francis of Assisi said, ‘preach always, if necessary use words.’
Today’s readings remind us that while there can be great joy in the gospel, proclaiming God’s word is not always a walk in the park. The first reading tells of the many hardships Jeremiah had to endure in his effort to be faithful to God’s word. He feels terror on all sides, people denounce him and even his close friends are watching for him to stumble. In the Gospel Jesus speaks of the many trials and difficulties that will beset the apostles as they continue to witness to him. Christians today are not generally persecuted for showing faith in Christ and his Gospel, but when they live according to his teaching they will be swimming against the tide of a materialistic culture and will not find the going easy. Jesus warns that being a Christian will cost sacrifice and suffering. We are bound to face opposition from a world that does not gladly submit to the word of God, that makes so many demands on human nature. But there is real satisfaction, too, in standing up for the truth of things. In the centre of their souls, prophetic people have the happiness of working with the Lord, who is the ultimate truth on whom we all depend. I’m sure St. Paul would agree with this.
Such is the case with Jeremiah also. With terror on every side and even his friends trying to trip him up he could have easily gone under. But not so Jeremiah. He has found a much deeper source of strength. “But the Lord is with me like a dread warrior; therefore, my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail.” Jesus, too, realises that in proclaiming the good news his disciples will face persecution and so he promises that he will be with them always, even to the end of the ages. The trouble is it’s not always easy to remember Jesus is at our side. We can be like those two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were so full of their own sorrow and grief that they failed to recognise Jesus when he joined them. Even though their hearts were burning when Jesus explained the Scriptures to them they still failed to recognise him. That only came with the breaking of bread.
Mary Stevenson in her lovely poem, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ highlights this same unawareness of the bigger picture. She had a dream where she looked back over her life and saw two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to her and the other to the Lord. But then she became very distressed that at the lowest and saddest times in her life, there was only one set of footprints. It seemed like God had deserted her when the going got tough. But the good Lord replied:
“My precious child, I love you and would
never leave you.
During your times of trial and suffering,
when you see only one set of footprints, it was then
that I carried you.”
Yes, indeed, our God reigns, our God reigns.
Sunday, 25th June 2017.