What’s so good about the good news?

With school over for the year, I am able to enjoy some fun reading, and I am happy to report that I have throughly enjoyed Peter J. Gomes’ new book, “The Scandalous gospel of Jesus: what’s so good about the good news”. Some reading this might remember his previous best seller, “The Good Book, reading the Bible with mind and heart.”

Gomes, in plain and simple language, yet with enough of a scholar’s touch, states that Jesus came preaching, but the church wound up preaching Jesus. He asks why does the church insist upon making Jesus the object of its attention rather than heeding, and I add, truly preaching what Jesus taught? The Rev. Gomes, since 1974, has been at Harvard University, serving as Plummer Professor of Christian Morals, and Pusey Minister in the Memorial Church.

Drawn from memories of his travels in life, as well as a long term professor, and guest preacher, Gomes recounts stories which go to the heart of the matter first stated as his basic question, that of the church being more concerned with its teachings over and above what Jesus truly taught. He is, not by the stretch of the imagination, a conservative yet there are times when he catches both sides of the track missing the message, catching both in various forms of worshiping rhetoric over truth, and Jesus’ message hidden inside forms of blatant exploitation.

Jesus’ message, for Gomes, is one which makes us uncomfortable, it is uneasy, but out of this dilemma, transformation happens. Gomes tells stories of his colleagues, and of his many years as a teacher. He speaks of being a black minister in a northern ivy league school, and talks plainly about his life as a minister, and his openness as a homosexual.

I very much enjoyed his tale recounting the passing of a preaching colleague who was loathed by almost everyone in his midst, the late Yale Chaplin William Sloane Coffin who constantly challenged people to look beyond their comfort zone to realize the actual good news. To his students preparing to be ministers Coffin preached:

Jesus subverted the conventional religious wisdom of his time. We have to do the same. The answer to bad evangelism is not no evangelism,but good evangelism. Good evangelism is not proselytizing but witnessing, bearing witness to “the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”; bearing witness to the prophet’s cry: “Let justice roll down like mighty waters, ” and to the prophetic insight that we all belong one to another, ever one from the pope to the loneliest wino on the planet.” (p.206)

Gomes, of course, has his own nuggets of wisdom, but the book flows so gently from one experience to another, and is smooth in transition, one can’t really tell where Gomes leaves off, and another experience incorporated comes in; its a pleasurable read, and more importantly caused me to lay the book down every once in a while and ponder.

Happy Pondering.