Often times, one may find a gem among the scripture readings of the daily Mass schedule celebrated in the Church including the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. Some of them are little treasures that may not be included in the Sunday Gospel cycle. This year, Mark’s Gospel is featured in the daily readings, but the other three evangelists make their appearances, as well.
A reading from Matthew that is usually included in the daily readings annually is the last paragraph of Chapter 4, the last words before Jesus engages the crowd with the Sermon on the Mount that opens Chapter 5. In the Gospel, Jesus has just stated that famous line, “I will make you fishers of men,” and without hesitation Simon Peter, Andrew his older brother, James and John the sons of Thunder, as he would one day call them (Mark 3:17), all dropped what they were doing and answered the call to follow him.
The actions of these first disciples set up the concluding paragraph which is a summary of Jesus’ early ministry to thousands and his continued call to do as he does. It says that Jesus taught the Gospel everywhere in Galilee, whether in synagogue or riverbank, that he cured all manner of illness and disease, so much so, that people were coming to him from foreign countries with every ailment imaginable. His message was always about living the kingdom of God, and he started it then with the Beatitudes.
Even the last words of the Order of Mass tell the faithful to go and announce the Gospel or live the Gospel or teach the Gospel (it all depends on who is saying it; many priests and deacons use their own words). Those who did not hear such words not only left Mass before it was over, they failed to carry out the request Jesus made. It was with great passion that he declared the kingdom of God, and it is with that same passion he called all his followers to spread the good news. Every once in awhile word comes out that some one preached the Gospel with such belief and conviction that their words and/or actions became legendary…and they weren’t all Catholic, but always followers of Christ.
The promise of religious freedom in the post-revolutionary United States opened the doors for aggressive preaching. Men from every Christian faith stepped forward to announce their beliefs and be heard. There was a backlash of this sentiment that returned to Europe. England, among other nations, produced orators of the Gospel who are exemplary.
The best known of these was a man named Charles Haddon Spurgeon; loosely educated without college or seminary training, he preached his first sermon at 15. Congregation after congregation ministered to by this Baptist legend outgrew their digs and were forced into larger gatherings. It happened time and time again, and at the age of nineteen he was invited to speak and the largest Baptist Church in England, where a short time later, he became the pastor.
Spurgeon was as prolific a writer as he was a speaker, and a great many of his works are available today. Like the Lord, he was never afraid to take sides in a controversy, professing the Gospel as the final litmus test for all human endeavors. He didn’t hesitate to criticize other faiths for their lack of theological understanding as he perceived it, and that also got him in trouble with the elders. In the end, what can be said best about him, is that Charles Haddon Spurgeon preached the Gospel in all things with an unwavering passion and devotion to our Lord. On February 9, 1892 more than 60,000 people filed past his casket, and some congregations follow his teaching in the modern era, too.
One of the preachers Spurgeon admired, criticized, and communicated with was an Anglican named John Berridge, known as ‘the old devil’ among his constituents and peers. He had the nerve to actually speak directly to parishioners, which the local Protestant ministers didn’t choose to do. Not only would he speak to them directly, he addressed them everywhere.
Berridge originally began clerical life because it provided a decent job opportunity, but was soon seized by a voice that told him to stop what he was doing and “only believe.” He was possessed by a fervent ministry and would speak of the Gospel everywhere: in fields, in churches, in streets, wherever people would listen. The preacher even dropped in and began speaking in churches that were not his, much to the chagrin of the ministers who were stationed there. Some tried to have him arrested for it. In writing about John Berridge, Spurgeon drew attention to his unique and deep spiritual education and his conversion by the Holy Spirit, declaring the timelessness of the Gospel in Berridge’s own words.
By their words and deeds these are only two of the great religious leaders who had the courage to speak out for Jesus in the way we are all called to. The Gospel was meant to be discussed among people; that’s how an understanding is formed. It begins with an earnest effort to read the four Canon Gospels of the New Testament and to incorporate them in our lives. There will always be preachers who inspire others to look deeper into Jesus’ words. Who among us is called to do just that?