The Mission of Christ: Good News to the Poor

Author: Pope John Paul II

"Sent to preach the Good News to the poor" (Cf. Lk 4, 18)

In his General Audience on Wednesday, 20 April 1988, the Holy Father spoke on the prophetic aspect of the mission of Christ, his preaching to the poor.

1. Today begins the last phase of our catechesis on Jesus Christ (which we have been doing during the general audiences on Wednesdays). So far we have tried to show who Jesus Christ is. We have done so, initially, in the light of Sacred Scripture, especially in the light of the Gospels, and then, in the last catecheses, we have examined and illustrated the response of faith that the Church has given to the revelation of Jesus himself and the testimony and preaching of the Apostles, throughout the first centuries, during the elaboration of the Christological definitions of the first Councils (between the fourth and seventh centuries).

Jesus Christ — true God and true man —, consubstantial with the Father (and the Holy Spirit) in terms of divinity; consubstantial with us in terms of humanity: Son of God and born of the Virgin Mary. This is the central dogma of the Christian faith in which the mystery of Christ is expressed.

2. The mission of Christ also belongs to this mystery . The symbol of faith relates this mission to the truth about the being of the God-Man ( Theandrikos ), Christ, when it says, concisely, that " for us men, and for our salvation he came down from heaven... and became a man ." For this reason, in our catecheses, we will try to develop the content of these words of the Creed, meditating, one after another, on the various aspects of the mission of Jesus Christ.

3. From the beginning of the messianic activity, Jesus manifests, first of all, his prophetic mission. Jesus announces the Gospel. He himself says that he "has come" (from the Father) (cf. Mk 1, 38), that "he has been sent" to "proclaim the Good News of the kingdom of God" (cf. Lk 4, 43).

Unlike his predecessor John the Baptist, who taught on the banks of the Jordan, in a desert place, to those who came from different parts, Jesus goes out to meet those to whom He must announce the Good News . One can see in this movement towards the people a reflection of the dynamism proper to the very mystery of the Incarnation: the going of God towards men. Thus, the Evangelists tell us that Jesus "went through all Galilee, teaching in his synagogues" ( Mt 4, 23), and that he " went through towns and villages " ( Lk 8, 1). From the evangelical texts it appears that the preaching of Jesus took place almost exclusively in the territory of Palestine, that is, between Galilee and Judea, with visits also to Samaria (cf. e.g.,Jn 4, 3-4), an obligatory step between the two main regions. However, the Gospel also mentions the "region of Tire and Sidon", that is, Phoenicia (cf. Mk 7, 31; Mt 15, 21), and also the Decapolis, that is, "the region of the Gerasenes", to the other shore of the lake of Galilee (cf. Mk 5, 1 and Mk 7, 31). These allusions prove that Jesus sometimes went outside the borders of Israel (in the ethnic sense), despite the fact that He repeatedly stresses that his mission is directed primarily "to the house of Israel " ( Mt15, 24). Likewise, when he sends the disciples to a first test of missionary apostolate, he explicitly recommends them: "Do not take the ways of the Gentiles and do not enter the city of the Samaritans; rather go to the lost sheep of Israel" ( Mt 10, 5-6 ). However, at the same time, He holds one of the most important messianic conferences in Samaria, at the well of Shechem (cf. Jn 4, 1-26).

In addition, the same Evangelists also testify that the crowds that followed Jesus were made up of people who came not only from Galilee, Judea and Jerusalem, but also "from Idumea, beyond the Jordan, from around Tire and Sidon" ( Mc 3, 7-8; cf. also Mt 4, 12-15).

4. Although Jesus clearly affirms that his mission is linked to the "house of Israel", at the same time, he implies that the doctrine preached by him —the Good News— is destined for the entire human race . Thus, for example, referring to the profession of faith of the Roman centurion, Jesus foreshadows: "And I tell you that many will come from East and West and will recline at table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven... " ( Mt 8, 11). But, only after the resurrection, he orders the Apostles: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations" ( Mt 28, 19).

5. What is the essential content of Jesus' teaching? It can be answered with one word: the Gospel, that is, Good News . Indeed, Jesus begins his preaching with these words: "The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near; convert and believe in the Good News" ( Mk 1, 15).

The very term "Good News" indicates the fundamental character of the message of Christ . God wants to respond to the desire for good and happiness, deeply rooted in man. It can be said that the Gospel, which is this divine response, has an "optimistic" character. However, this is not a purely temporary optimism, a superficial eudaemonism ; it is not an advertisement for "paradise on earth". The "Good News" of Christ places essential demands of a moral nature on those who hear it ; indicates the need for renunciations and sacrifices; it is ultimately related to the redemptive mystery of the cross. Indeed, in the center of the "Good News"Mt 5, 3-11), which specifies in the most complete way the kind of happiness that Christ has come to announce and reveal to humanity, still a pilgrim on earth towards its definitive and eternal destinies. He says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Each of the eight beatitudes has a structure similar to this. In the same spirit, Jesus calls "blessed" the servant whose master "finds him awake—that is, active—when he returns" (cf. Lk 12:37). Here one can also glimpse the eschatological and eternal perspective of the happiness revealed and announced by the Gospel.

6. The beatitude of poverty goes back to the beginning of the messianic activity of Jesus, when, speaking in the synagogue of Nazareth, he says: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to announce the Good News to the poor " ( Lk 4, 18). It is a question here of those who are poor not only, and not so much, in an economic-social sense ("class"), but of those who are spiritually open to accepting the truth and grace, which come from the Father, as a gift of his love, free gift ( "free" fact), because, internally, they feel free from attachment to the goods of the earth and ready to use and share them according to the demands of justice and charity. For this condition of the poor according to God ('anawim), Jesus "thanks the Father", since "he has hidden these things (= the great things of God) from the wise and learned and has revealed them to simple people " (cf. Lk 10, 21). But this does not mean that Jesus distances himself from people who are in a better economic situation, like the publican Zacchaeus who had climbed a tree to see him go by (cf. Lk 19, 2-9), or those other friends of Jesus , whose names are not transmitted to us by the Gospels. In the words of Jesus they are " blessed "poor in spirit" (cf. Mt 5, 3) and "those who hear the Word of God and keep it" ( Lk 11, 28).

7. Another characteristic of Jesus' preaching is that he tries to convey the message to his listeners in a way appropriate to their mentality and culture. Having grown up and lived among them in the years of his hidden life in Nazareth (when he "progressed in wisdom ": Lk 2, 52), he knew the mentality, the culture and the tradition of his people, in the Old Testament heritage.

8. Precisely for this reason, he very often gives the truths he announces the form of parables , as we find from the Gospel texts, for example, from Matthew: "Jesus spoke all these things in parables to the people, and he spoke nothing to them without parables, so that the oracle of the prophet might be fulfilled: 'I will open my mouth in parables, I will publish what was hidden from the creation of the world' ( Ps 77/78, 2)" ( Mt 13, 34-35).

Certainly, the speech in parables, by referring to the facts and issues of daily life that were within everyone's reach, managed to connect more easily with a generally poorly educated audience (cf. Summa Th ., III, q. 42. a . two). And yet, "the mystery of the kingdom of God", hidden in the parables, needed particular explanations, sometimes requested by the Apostles themselves (eg cf. Mk 4, 11-12). A proper understanding of these could not be obtained without the help of the inner light that comes from the Holy Spirit. And Jesus promised and gave this light.

9. We must still note a third characteristic of the preaching of Jesus, highlighted in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi , published by Paul VI after the Synod of 1974, in relation to the theme of evangelization. In this Exhortation we read: "Jesus himself, the Gospel of God, was the first and greatest evangelizer. He was until the end: until perfection, until the sacrifice of his earthly existence" (n. 7).

Yes. Jesus not only announced the Gospel, but He himself was the Gospel. Those who believed in Him followed the word of his preaching, but much more the One who preached it. They followed Jesus because He offered "words of life", as Peter confessed after the Master's speech in the synagogue of Capharnaum: "Lord, where are we going to go? You have words of eternal life " ( Jn 6, 68 ). This identification of word and life, of the preacher and the preached Gospel, is perfectly realized only in Jesus. This is the reason why we too believe and follow him, when he reveals himself to us as the "only Master" (cf. Mt 23, 8. 10).

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