Jesus Christ, the Evangelizer
“Jesus himself, the Good News of God, was the very first and the greatest evangelizer.”
He revealed himself as being sent to proclaim the fulfilment of the Gospel of God, foretold in the history of Israel, primarily through the prophets, and promised in Sacred Scripture. St. Mark the Evangelist begins his account by connecting “the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mk 1:1) to a corresponding verse from the Scriptures: “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah” (Mk 1:2). In the Gospel of St. Luke, Jesus reveals himself in the synagogue at Nazareth through the reading of Scripture, as one who is able to bring the Scripture to fulfilment by his very presence, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21). The Gospel according to St. Matthew has a true and proper series of quotes of fulfilled prophecies, intended to reflect the deeper reality of Jesus, based on what was spoken though the prophets (cf. Mt 1:22; 2:15,17, 23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4). At the time of his arrest, Jesus sums up all things in his Person: “All this has taken place, that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” (Mt 26:56). In the Gospel of John, the disciples themselves attest to this connection. After their first encounter, St. Philip states: ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote.” Un 1:45). During his ministry, Jesus repeatedly refers to his relation to Sacred Scripture and the testimony associated with it: “You search the Scriptures, thinking they have in them eternal life: it is they that give testimony of me” Jn 5:39);“If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me” (Jn 5:46).
The concurring testimony of the Evangelists affirms that the Gospel of Jesus is the radical summation, continuation and total fulfillment of the Scriptures. Precisely because of this continuity, the newness of Jesus appears both clearly and understandably. Indeed, his evangelizing activity continues a history which was begun earlier. His gestures and words are to be read in light of the Scriptures. In the last apparition recounted by St. Luke, the Risen Lord summarizes this understanding by saying: “These are the words which I spoke to you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled”(Lk 24:44). His supreme gift to his disciples will indeed “open their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Lk 24:45). Considering the depth of the Jewish people’s relation to the Scriptures, Jesus reveals himself to be the new evangelizer who brings newness and fullness to the Law, Prophets and Wisdom of Israel.
For Jesus, the purpose of evangelization is drawing people into his intimate relationship with the Father and the Spirit. This is the primary reason for his preaching and miracles: to proclaim a salvation which, even though manifested through concrete acts of healing, is not meant to indicate a desire for social or cultural change but a profound experience, accessible to each person, of being loved by God and learning to recognize him in the face of a loving and merciful Father (cf. Lk 15). The revelation contained in his words and actions are linked to the words of the prophets. In this regard, the account of the signs performed by Jesus in the presence of the messengers of John the Baptist are emblematic, namely, signs which reveal the identity of Jesus as properly aligned with the great prophetic utterances. St. Luke the Evangelist recounts: “In that hour he cured many of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many that were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them” (Lk 7:21, 22). The words of Jesus show the full meaning of his actions in relation to the signs contained in countless biblical prophecies (cf. especially Is 29:18; 35:5,6; 42:18; 26:19; 61:1).
The way Jesus treated people is to be considered an essential element of Jesus’ method of evangelizing. He was able to welcome everyone, without distinction, and never exclude anyone: first, the poor, then the rich like Zachaeus and Joseph of Arimathea; outsiders like the centurion and the Syro-Phoenician woman; the righteous, like Nathanael; and prostitutes and public sinners with whom he also sat at table. Jesus knew how to plumb the depths of a person and elicit faith in the God who first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10,19), whose love always precedes us and is not dependent on our own merits, because he is love itself: “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16). In this manner, he sets down how the Church is to evangelize, demonstrating for her the heart of the Christian faith, namely, to believe in Love and in the face and voice of this Love, namely, Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ evangelizing actions leads a person quite naturally to a conversion-experience. Every person is called to conversion and to faith in God’s merciful love. The kingdom will grow in the manner in which each person learns to turn, in the intimacy of prayer, to God as Father (cf. Lk 11:2; Mt 23:9) and, following the example of Jesus Christ, to recognize, in a totally free manner, that the goal of life is fulfilling God’s will (cf. Mt 7.21). Evangelization and the call to holiness and conversion are intricately bound together, a matter which needs to be proposed to people here and now, if they are to experience the Kingdom of God in Jesus, and, in turn, become the children of God. The Synod is expected to consider to what extent evangelization and the call to holiness and conversion are present in our communities today and how, through their interaction, they nourish the lives of our communities and produce fruit.