Perhaps you didn’t hear about the latest Dead Sea Scrolls found in a cave at Qumran! They offer new insight into the great commission Jesus gave to his followers before he ascended into heaven. Most are familiar with the words already contained in Matthew 28, but now additional text has been discovered that sheds light on the disciples’ response to Jesus’ command. The following text combines the previously known Scripture with this newly found source material:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” Then one of the disciples interjected, “We will accomplish these things by printing bulletins with Mass times and news of events, and we will repeat the same information over and over again with websites, e-mail, and Facebook!” Jesus responded with a voice faintly heard from above, as he was ascending into the heavens, “Are you kidding me?”
Okay, so there was no great archeological find of scrolls detailing one disciple’s vision of how churches everywhere actually communicate to the world around them, but hopefully you get the point. Churches everywhere struggle to create vibrant communities and have great difficulty imparting information to those in their communities. Most of the time it is simple: There isn’t a whole lot of substance being communicated. Basic information is always important. People need to hear the “who, what, when, where, and how” of things. But as church, every time we give out a bulletin, send out a newsletter, or update a website, we have the opportunity, and responsibility, to do more than impart facts. We need to share the good news.
The Command to Communicate
In the words of Jesus, we find a directive to evangelize, baptize, and teach. This is the plan laid out for us. Jim Kelley, former president of the International Catholic Stewardship Council, frequently reminds listeners in his presentations, “Keep the main thing the main thing.” This is the main thing.
However, too often we forget the main thing in our parishes and dioceses. We become consumed with implementation of programs, maintaining budgets, running events, and weekly schedule making. Our evangelization committees are sometimes afterthoughts, our liturgy committees are overly concerned with showmanship, and our stewardship committees are focused on numbers and increased money in the collection. And all of that, for better or worse, ends up detailed in our church communications. But all of that is not the main thing.
The epistles of Paul are letters of encouragement, teaching, and sometimes chastisement, to communities struggling to survive and maintain this new way of life in Jesus Christ. In the twenty-first century, we find ourselves in a similar situation. Atheism is in vogue, and Christian voices play a diminished role in the public square. For many of those who enter through the doors of a church on a Sunday, what they see, hear, and take home with them will be the only communication concerning Jesus Christ they will encounter that week. There is an opportunity there to be like St. Paul and provide something that makes a difference in their faith lives. In fact, it just might make all the difference.
Proclaiming the Good News
The word kerygma is perhaps not widely used by most Catholics. It is a Greek word, which essentially means preaching or proclamation, and it is used in theology to mean the basic, fundamental aspects of Jesus’ message, the central kernel of what the good news is all about. Our theology moves past the kerygma and develops because we grow in understanding and maturity of faith. But at the heart of who we are as Christians, lie the basic truths about Jesus, his role in our salvation, and his message of a new life in him. In the mandates given to the disciples in Matthew 28, the message to be communicated is this kerygma. A mature discipleship is only possible after one’s life is changed by this message.
In the church, we too often assume that people have been given an opportunity to accept this kerygma and then develop into mature disciples. By the sheer numbers of young adults that leave the church each year, we know this is not the case. Some will say the problem is that the kerygma is all they have received and because they never advanced past that, therein lies the problem. However, the early church had no Scott Hahn to teach them more about the Scriptures, and no Matthew Kelly books to help them reflect on their faith. The power of the kerygma, powerfully and consistently represented in preaching and word, was the main thing that transformed an upper room of disciples into a movement that ultimately changed the course of history. Today, we must never assume people have internalized and are conscious of why they are who they are as Christians. The church must constantly evangelize and teach those who would seek to follow him the kerygma of Jesus Christ.