Being Compelled to Proclaim
Feb 04, 2024
No doubt you have heard stories that champion the importance of perseverance in the face of adversity. Perhaps we should add accounts of those who persevere - perhaps in adversity, but perhaps not - because of an inner sense that “I just have to do this.” Some famous people reflect this description.
There’s Albert Einstein who was labeled lazy in school because he was always distracted by abstract concepts, or Thomas Edison who failed thousands of times before he invented the light bulb. What about Oprah Winfrey whose early life was marked by poverty and abuse, and who was fired early in her career because her boss said she “was unfit for television,” or J.K. Rowling who was jobless, penniless and on welfare with a dependent child when her first Harry Potter manuscript was rejected by 12 publishers. Walt Disney was fired from his job at a Kansas City newspaper because he lacked imagination and had no good ideas. They all persevered because of an inner sense of “I have to do this” or “I cannot not do this” compelled them to do so.
We see this very same perseverance, this “I have to do this” attitude, in today’s reading from 1 Corinthians and in the closing verses of the Gospel lesson. I won’t pretend that the passage from 1 Corinthians is easy to follow, it’s not. So, I’ll try to boil it down to a few concepts.
In this letter to the Christians in Corinth, the Apostle Paul, who we know as the greatest Christian missionary, was making it clear to his critics that he is compelled to preach, that is to proclaim the good news of Jesus. It’s a necessity for him, he cannot not do it; “woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel”, he writes.
This is so true that he seeks no reward (pay) for proclaiming it, at least not in Corinth. It’s his obligation to do so, he says, and his reward for preaching it is that, well, he gets to keep on preaching it.
The way commentator Scott Hoezee explains it is: “It’s not a choice for him, really. Once he met Jesus in that blinding flash on the Damascus Road, the Gospel got down so deep into Paul’s bones and heart and psyche and soul and body that trying to make Paul not preach was like thinking you could hold back a 10-foot wave on the ocean by putting your hands out in front of you. Good luck with that!” (1)
Do any of us feel that way about what we do, that we have no choice but to do it, including this preacher? What a blessing, and a challenge, being thus motivated would be!
A similar determination is alluded to at the close of today’s Gospel lesson. We’re still in the first chapter of Mark; much has happened in the previous 28 verses! Since we last focused on Mark, the four fishermen Jesus called – Simon, Andrew, James and John – left their boats and went with Jesus to Capernaum, a small fishing village, where the four apparently lived.
On the Sabbath, Jesus went to the synagogue and began to teach with authority. A demon-possessed man challenged him and named his as the Holy One of God, but Jesus told the unclean spirit to be silent and leave the man. It obeyed immediately. They then went to Simon’s (Peter’s) home where they found his mother-in-law (which tells us that Peter has a wife) ill with a fever. With a touch Jesus healed her.
Word traveled fast about these miracles, the Sabbath ended, and “the whole city”, gathered at Peter’s door seeking healing, which Jesus imparted to many. Very early the next morning, Jesus snuck away to pray; the disciples had to hunt for him. When they found him, they informed him that everyone was looking for him.
Jesus had been seeking God’s will, which may not have been the disciples’ will. Perhaps it seemed to them that their new fishing for people enterprise was going well; all they had to do was control the crowds that came to Jesus for miracles. They could work from home instead of from the boats and ride the wave of Jesus’ popularity. But Jesus had to choose between becoming the local healer and reaching as many people as possible with the good news of God’s love for them.
“Let us go out to the neighboring towns,” he said, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” (Mark 1:38) Jesus was compelled to preach; it was something he had to do. The message of God’s love had to reach as many ears as possible.
Now, let’s return to Paul, who like Jesus is driven to reach as many ears as possible with the good news. He does so, he writes, by “being all things to all people.”
In other words, he adapted his lifestyle to that of the people to whom he was sharing the Good News. If he was with Jews, he acted like a Jew, observing their feasts and rituals (which would have come naturally to him, since was a devout and well-educated Jewish man). But, amazingly, if he was with Gentiles (non-Jews) he acted like a Gentile, following Jesus’ example of eating and drinking with those who were considered outcasts and sinners.
To those who did not know the law of God, Paul became “like one not having the law”, which is one reason some in Corinth were criticizing him; he was accused of leading Jews away from the Torah. The reality is, though, that while Paul ignored the ceremonial and civil parts of the Torah, he clung to living a faithful (moral) life, which is what is meant by being under “Christ’s law.”
Quoting commentator Doug Bratt, “Paul did not stay in his own little world, safe in the holy huddle of the church. Rather, he entered into the lives of those outside the church. He identified with them, adapting to their lifestyle, becoming like them, as much as he could without violating God’s law and without compromising his own central Christian convictions.” Instead of saying, “Come over here and be like I am”, Paul became like they were. (2)
Well…that gives us a great deal to consider, doesn’t it? For both Jesus and Paul, relationship was the avenue for conveying God’s grace. The focus was not on becoming the other, but on accepting, honoring, appreciating and being a living reflection of Jesus to the one who may not know about the unconditional love of God that came to us in him.
We had an interesting conversation in Confirmation Class yesterday about the 10 Commandments, and particularly the commandment, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” As we reflected on how easy it is to get into a bad habit of saying, “Oh, God,” or “Oh my God!”, in a way that is disrespectful of God and does not offer thanks or praise, I also noted that one of the best ways to do God’s will is to follow the commandment ourselves, but not to criticize other people who do not do so, instead accepting them but being a reflection of Jesus. That is to nurture a relationship, but also to be faithful to one’s faith.
There are many opportunities for such relationships - at school, at work, in the neighborhood, playing sports, pursuing a hobby and, yes, even through events at, or supported by, the church. In every case the activity may be different, the words may change, but the goal is the same: to proclaim the Good News of Jesus. As was true for Paul and Jesus, we persevere because sharing God’s unconditional love is what we are compelled to do. AMEN.
- “Sermon Commentary for 1 Corinthians 9:16-23” by Scott Hoezee, February 4, 2018, www.cepreaching.org
- “Sermon Commentary for 1 Corinthians 9:16-23” by Doug Bratt, February 4, 2024, www.cepreaching.org