The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.


Proclaiming What?

What is the good news Jesus proclaims?

by Russell Rathbun

Gospel Reading: Mark 1:14-20

For Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012: Epiphany 3

I have spent a lot of time with Mark.

Its absence of a birth narrative, its ambiguous ending, the breakneck speed with which its author moves through the story, are all intriguing to me.

Mark leaves a lot of questions, which, I obviously like a lot. But in all the study of the book I have never noticed the most obvious question before—what is the good news of God?

Assuming Salvation

I have just assumed that the good news was Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection to save humanity from its sins and reconcile creation to the Creator. But when I read this pericope this time through I got hung up on verses 14 and 15.

Jesus comes to Galilee proclaiming the good news. If he is proclaiming the good news, it is obviously not his death and resurrection. It seems like it must be something that is available or accessible at that point in the narrative. 

Fulfillment and Coming

Jesus goes on to say, the time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news. Is the good news the coming near of the kingdom of God?

What exactly is the kingdom of God? The implication is that it is something that has been far away, not present or accessible, but now is coming nearer. Is it nearer now because Jesus is bringing it nearer or is he just pointing out its nearness?

Near or Far?

Maybe the good news changes. Jesus is proclaiming a good news that is different than we proclaim. I proclaim the definitive work of Jesus in the resurrection.

Clearly Jesus wasn’t proclaiming that. Maybe I should be preaching every Sunday about the nearness of the kingdom of God, I am just not that sure what that is.

The Hardest Question

What is the good news Jesus proclaims? Is the good news not dependent on the resurrection? 

 Russell Rathbun is a preacher at House of Mercy in St. Paul, Minnesota, the author of Midrash on the Juanitos (Cathedral Hill Press, 2010) and the curator of The Hardest Question.


  1. cherie b says:

    Maybe the Good News is that it starts right here, right now. Don’t have to stay hung up in “before”, don’t have to wait for “after”. It starts right here, right now. Kingdom – whatever it looks like, however it emerges – is of God, which means Jesus’ God, which means a God of mercy and grace. And – wonder of wonders – it doesn’t just belong to our ancestors or in some future reality. It’s right here. Right now.

  2. judy b says:

    We are born into original sin, the fruit of the tree of the KNOWLEGE of good and evil. And in that relm we struggle to make sense of right and wrong, belief vs disbelief, fear and hope. Could it be the Kingdom of God is stepping out of that mindset to live in Eden, our “shalom” with nothing between us and God. To live as Jesus did, in utter oneness with the Father and to give up the life of the flesh and walk in his pure spirit of love? He showed us the way.

  3. Jim says:

    Given the pace of Mark, I think he is proclaiming that the living God is on the move again and that news is demanding an immediate response. [OK, I stole that idea from N.T. Wright]. But it IMMEDIATELY makes a lot of sense. :-)

  4. Or is it both? Yes, good news that is fulfilled in Jesus’ death and resurrection, but in a way that is already present (or at least “at hand”) in the incarnate Word. Perhaps, as some theologians have suggested, the crucifixion was not a separate event, but rather the inevitable outcome of the incarnation. So in a sense, the resurrection has already begun because the Life that must be put to death is already on the scene.

  5. Karl Stevens says:

    My friend Abby once said that the Kingdom of God is that thing which you want so badly that you’re willing to live your life now as if it had already happened. Maybe the thing you long for is the healing of a broken relationship – when you want it so badly that you’re willing to live as if that relationship is already healed, and treat the person as if they never hurt you, you’re living in the Kingdom of God. Or maybe its the fulfilling of some ambition, the desire to be an artist or a writer or an athlete. If you live as if you’d already fulfilled that ambition, by writing or painting or playing sports, you are living in the Kingdom of God. Certainly Jesus invited people to live their lives as if they were already fulfilled and restored, and he helped them to do it by healing and casting out demons. I know that there’s some danger in saying that the Kingdom of God depends on our living in accordance with the deepest wishes of our hearts. Some wishes are ungodly. But as a way to make its meaning in our lives, it works to think of the Kingdom of God in this way.

  6. judy b says:

    I feel Abby’s on it!

  7. Paul Timmis says:

    Ched Myers writes that Jeremiah, Amos and Ezekiel all use the “hooking of fish” imagery when saying what God’s going to do to disobedient Israel, when speaking of God bringing judgement on the rich and powerful. What Jesus is doing, Myers stresses, is “taking this mandate for his own” and “inviting common folk to join him in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege”. A breakthrough there would be more than good news for many in this world – then and now, wouldn’t it? I write this in London as news filters through that the City of London Corporation has won its high court case to remove the Occupy London protest camp from St Paul’s churchyard. Mmmm.

  8. Charis Varnadore says:

    The Kingdom of God is at hand daily when we care for the poor, shelter the homelsss, offer hope to the prisoners… Perhaps the reason that this s not so obvious it the fact that so few of us, and few churches as well, take this seriously enough to devote ourselves to it… I love theologcal discussion to no end, and am in awe with the brilliance of theologians and pastors, but these simple words of Jesus require no Phd. Charis

    I apologize for my abruptness and dogmatism on this point but….

  9. Richard Pemberton says:

    Yup, I think Rev. Russell frames the question just right. The Jesus in Mark simply does not think the good news is all about him. In fact, he mostly tells people to keep quiet about who he is. He’s proclaiming the nearness of the kingdom of God, which is good news for those who are ready, but terrifying news to those who are not. And that kingdom is coming whether we want it to or not. The heavenly dome that seperates God’s realm (the heavens) from ours is torn apart and God is, in Don Jewel’s words, “on the loose.” If anything, Jesus is both the messenger and sign of the kingdom. Good news is not always comfortable news. If one is looking for an analogy in the world today, it can be found in the Occupy Wall Street movement. The “good news” is that that tyranny is on the run and justice is near at hand. That is indeed “good news,” but it won’t be heard that way by insiders.

  10. Jen says:

    I think so many of us are taught, and then hold so tight, to the idea that the good news is that “Jesus died for our sins.” I think it can be threatening to stray from that because people think that we then lose the centrality of Christ. But I’ve come to realize (like others) that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are absolutely good news, but not all of it. The good news is that God is still alive, active, working in our world and in our lives; the good news is that, even though it may not look like it, we are part of God’s work to restore us and our world to right relationship with God. All the things people above have mentioned (caring for the poor, people standing together speaking out against systems of oppression, etc.) are also the good news, proof that God is on the move. For me, expanding what God’s good news is, only gives me more opportunities to recognize God’s work for what it is, and get on board.

  11. Mark says:

    I have been the sense of urgency in the time of Jesus and the sharp social, political and economic contrasts in the Galilean world. The language of the text captures that. Basileia and euangelion are imperial words that belong to the realm of emperors like Caesar and Herod. Even kerysso has the feel of an imperial court setting. The language sets up two contrasting images in the minds of the fishermen – Basiliea Romaion (Kingdom of Rome) and Basileia tou Theou (Kingdom of God). The message of Jesus is, “Repent and believe the Good news.” I think the message that the fishermen heard is, “Stop trusting and acting according to the ways of Rome and Herod and start trusting and acting in the ways of God. I am. If you’re on board with that, then follow me, we’re heading in a new direction.”

    There are obvious contrasts in our world as well. I am also wondering about the internal contrasts and tensions within the hearts, minds, souls and daily lives of the people in the pew. If my people are thinking about living in a new direction, or what life according to a different “set of rules” (i.e. Kingdom of God rules) is like, what is the word from the preacher (me) that will compel them to get on board with that?

  12. Rebekah says:

    I love this hard question. I find I want to look at it rhetorically – not historically – Mark writing for a community who will hear not isolated fragments but the whole of Mark’s writing and then judge what is the good news. It is easy to read Mark’s Gospel post-crucifixion as dealing with the community’s disappointment in the dead Jesus. A theological slight of hand: the good news about the resurrection resolves the followers’ grief. But just as we miss the Roman imperial context that provides so much background to understand the Gospel, I’m afraid I also miss the whole picture. So now I will look at the whole of Mark, yet again, and ask what does Mark say is good news?

    In reading Richard Pemberton and Mark’s comment, I was reminded, as Andrew Greeley says, “Jesus and his trouble-making go merrily on”. See

  13. Dennis says:

    It has long seemed clear to me that a good definition of the Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven is this: The Kingdom is what the world would be like if people behaved as though God were sovereign. This means that most of us only catch fleeting sightings of the Kingdom, moments when compassion seems genuine, when insight seems providential, when human experience seems extraordinary. If this is so, then the Good News is indeed that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. It is absolutely the life, death and resurrection of Jesus — the Christ event, not merely a subset of it — that causes the movement from ‘distant’ to ‘at hand.’

    Jesus spent a lot of time talking about the Kingdom, and it is the thing on which most of his metaphorical effort is engaged. Nearly every parable is a description of what the Kingdom is like, and so many of his parables deal with ethics that I’d be hard-pressed to come to any other conclusion than that the Kingdom is expressed when people treat each other as God’s children.

    For me, a harder question from this text asks, “What does it mean, in today’s world, to fish for people? Aren’t we fish, too?”

  14. Justin says:

    So glad to have found this blog, Russell! Linked over from Tony Jones’ spotlight today.

    Anyways, I thoroughly appreciate this post as well; I have been reading through Scot McKnight’s “The King Jesus Gospel” and it has really been helpful in piecing together some of my own fragmented thoughts on “gospel”, “good news”, etc.

  15. Juna says:

    I’m so glad that Jesus is not frustrated thugoh! Sometimes with the darkening world I get so frustrated. But He isn’t!!! He has a plan and He is in control even the darkness will glorify His perfect name. 2 Thes. 2:7-8 says this: For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming. It’s not even a fight with Jesus. The simple power in His mouth will slay the darkness. The world will only get darker so that His light might shine brighter!!! Praise Jesus!


  1. [...] notes I used along with the two slides I showed. Rev. Russell Rathburn’s The Hardest Question posts and John C. Holbert’s reflections on Jonah helped shape my thoughts. (Along with memories [...]

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