The gospel in Jesus' teaching, what is it? Pope John Paul II calls it an invitation to joy (and I quote him simply because reading his remark inspired me to the following contemplation).
The gospel - an invitation to joy: this is true indeed. When we want to convey the gospel to others, it must sound like that, so that even a corrupt man like Zacchaeus, filled with joy over the visit of Jesus, is moved to change his life to the better (Luke 19:1-10).
The gospel is an invitation to participate in the joy of God over His creation, when He looked at all he had made, and saw that it was really good (Gen. 1:31). It is an invitation to realize that I belong to His creation, that I, made in His image (Gen. 1:27), am a valuable being, designed to grow into a letter of God's love for others (2 Cor. 3:3); that all the hardship and temptation in my life are part of God's training plan to make me fit for a life of eternal quality: A life that I, those around me, and God find worthwhile; a life that radiates God's joy because it cannot be crushed by adversities (Rom. 8:28-39).
The gospel is an invitation to the joy of love, a joy that we experience when we are caring and diligent, a joy we experience when we are cared for and appreciated, a joy we feel when we are accepted without having to hide our weaknesses (Ps. 32). The joy of love that brings forth the fruits of a life guided by the spirit of God (Gal. 5:22-23); the joy of love whose presence makes up for many imperfections (1 Pet. 4:8); the joy which makes us grow strong in patience, consideration, selflessness, courage and forgiveness, the attributes of love (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
The gospel is an invitation to participate in the joy of the angels when someone comes to life again after having been lost for God (Luke 15:1-32); to celebrate the generosity of God who shares with us His riches even if we do not deserve it, because He loves us (Is. 62:3-5). The joy of being forgiven for our own failures in life, and for having a new opportunity to begin. The joy of resurrection is not only an option for the distant future; it can become reality now if we turn from our lifeless rat race to a life in the guiding presence of God (Ps. 1).
The gospel is an invitation to the joy of freedom. We need no longer be slaves of destructive passions and desires (Rom. 6:20-23). We have a new master, Jesus Christ, who paid for our freedom with His life. He, the author of life (John 11:25-26), knows us better than we ever can, and He knows how to develop the best in us (Prov. 8:1-21). As children of God we are free to do whatever is constructive (1 Cor. 10:23-24), constrained only by the demands of love (Rom. 13:8).
The gospel is an invitation to the joy of perfection, the joy that we experience when we see something excellent, or when we have done something well. Nature is full of proof that God cherishes perfection (Ps. 19; Rom. 1:20), and, made in His image, we cannot fail being impressed, too. And Jesus has the confidence that we become perfect, too, beginning now (Matth. 5:48; Rom. 8:29; 1 John 4:18) and reaching into eternity (1 John 3:2; Phil. 3:21).
The gospel is an invitation to the joy of hope, the joy that brightens our day when the present seems bleak (Ps. 56). The joy of hope, nourished by the realization that God cares for us (Luke 12:22-31), shields us from the nagging desperation that creeps into our heart when disaster strikes (Ps. 46), when threatened by enemies (Prov. 16:7), when we feel abandoned or are struck by long-term illness (Ps. 88), when our plans fail (Prov. 19:21), when we lose someone or something important to us (Job 1:21). And there is the joy of looking forward to the end of times, when, in the new world God is preparing, there will be neither death nor sorrow, crying, or pain (Rev. 21:4).
But most of all, the gospel is an invitation to enjoy the presence of God (Matth. 4:17; 28:20; John 15:4-5). The joy of being with God (Neh. 8:10; Phil. 4:4) is the heart of all true joy, and makes up for all the difficulties we have to face in life (Ps. 73:23-28). Without God, we are weakest in the storms of life where we'd need strength most desperately; with Him we are invincible (Matth. 7:24-27). As servants of God, we are a source of strength and consolation for those in despair (2 Cor. 6:4-10): they see in us a living proof that unfortunate circumstances need not decide on the quality of life, if it is based on eternal values - values offered to us by a motherly caring God (Is. 66:13).
Arnold Neumaier (Arnold.Neumaier@univie.ac.at)