We spend our lives proclaiming the Good News and trying to explain it, encouraging others to live it and believe in it. Week after week, we give a sermon that, God willing, provides hope to people, has meaning in their lives and reminds them that there is Good News. We have eight to ten minutes each week to do so. If we are lucky, the parishioners in the pews hear half of what we say, so realistically we are down to four to five minutes of Good News being preached and heard. Hopefully we hit the mark, somewhat, with both content and delivery.
We know we are competing with all the other “news” our parishioners hear each day, each week. How much other news do our parishioners hear each day, each week, 24/7 in this world of instant news? With all the other news out there, it is a wonder that parishioners can hear anything in addition, no matter what kind of news we share.
There is “bad news” and there is “good news.” Some of the media do feature nice human-interest stories, so we do hear a little bit of good news from other sources. But, for the most part, what people hear — or, more accurately, what they remember — is the bad news. We (maybe I should just say I and not judge others by my own habits) are fascinated by bad news. When some horrible event occurs, we are glued to the television to absorb as much information as we can; information that seems to be repeated ad nauseam for hours upon hours. All this bad news — especially if it is man-made — does not speak highly of human nature. Unfortunately, people get so inured to bad news that it is considered the norm. If we think it is the norm, the expected, we have begun to lose perspective, allowing the bad to override the good.
There are preachers out there who espouse all the horrors of human nature and remind us of the sins of our origins, making it sound as if we are first and foremost bad and only, on occasion, good. Let us remember that even the Federal Government deems us innocent until proven otherwise, presuming goodness first.
We can look at the Scriptures — the true Good News — and realize that, first and foremost, we are inherently good but that, on occasion, we stray from that goodness and do unfortunate things. How often are we aware of that, and, more importantly, how often do we tell that to our parishioners? There is every reason to think that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, as we often hear, but how often do we remind people that God has opened a different perspective. The Good News is that there is also the reality that much of the world is going to heaven.
Though there is the propensity to think the worst about people, yet if we took a poll, I would guess that the majority would say, “most of us are good people.” We rely every day on people’s good nature, probably taking it for granted. And we should take it for granted as it presumes goodness. I am of the school that we are created in God’s image and, therefore, start out as good and pretty much remain that way. Most people are the same: just good-hearted people hoping for the best for their families, their friends and the world at large.
We so quickly define the world by the few because they get the notoriety and the front pages, the lead stories. Those stories are about the minority, and that, in and of itself, is good news. Any tragedy or evil (human or natural) is bad news, but it is not the totality of the news. We need to remember that there was only one Adam Lanza who shot the school children in Connecticut nearly a year ago, but there were thousands around the world who prayed, sent condolences and donations out of the goodness of their hearts. And there were teachers that day who did what is instinctive for any adult when caring for children: protect them out of innate goodness.
Two individuals, Dzhokar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, seemed to get all the attention as the Boston Marathon bombers, but they were outnumbered by the hundreds of innocent good-natured bystanders who came to the aid and rescue of those who were injured that day. If it were not for the many good people, the few bad ones would win. In most instances of bad news, the good outnumbers the bad.
The Good Samaritan story is an example of which we should concentrate on first: the good guys or the bad guys. In the parable, at first glance, the bad guys win: the robbers (plural) who attack the man walking to Jericho from Jerusalem, then the indifferent priest and Levite — that leaves just the Good Samaritan. As we peel back the layers, there are several good people in the story besides the obvious Good Samaritan. The innkeeper can be presumed good. Even the Good Samaritan presumed the innkeeper’s goodness. The Good Samaritan handed the innkeeper two silver coins and asked him to care for the victim. The Good Samaritan assumed that the innkeeper was just like him, like so many of us, just a good person who wants the best for everyone. We could probably also assume that the man who fell victim to the robbers was a good person. He was an innocent bystander at the wrong place at the wrong time. So many tragedies involve such victims. We can think of the children and teachers in the classroom in Connecticut or the cheering bystanders in Boston who were in a good place at the wrong time.
I think it is fair to say that even the priest and Levite are people who are good by nature, but who, for whatever reason, made the wrong decision that day. This may be a stretch from the Gospel story and its point, but it is not a stretch for humanity. I think we can say that we are like the priest and Levite, that is, good people who, for whatever reason, choose poorly now and then. Each of us in the pulpit and those listening to us in the pews are probably by nature good people who walk the right road toward holiness. Similar to the priest or Levite, we cross over to the opposite side now and then, bypassing an opportunity to live out that innate holiness. I would guess that the priest and Levite tossed and turned that night, knowing they had betrayed their inner desire to be holy and realizing that they did not do the “good” that day. We all have been there. We walk by and away from the opportunity to reach out to a hurting friend, ignoring the person who is most vulnerable.
Each day we are faced with countless opportunities to live out the good that is within us. Each day there are opportunities for that which is good to override that which is bad. Each day there are opportunities for love to override hate in the world. Each day there are opportunities for God’s grace to cover sin. The amount of goodness within humanity is far greater than the bad within us. How often do we remind ourselves of this basic goodness? How often do we remind our parishioners?
They see and hear enough bad news. Maybe for that one hour each week while they sit in the pew, we can make sure they hear the Good News that they are made in God’s image and are first and foremost good people. TP