Yesterday, I quoted a paragraph from a friend about Jesus being central to everything; i.e. He is the message of the Good News. This paragraph, from my good friend Fr. Joe Girzone, elicited a response from him to me of a story he shared that I now share with you. Again I am with Joe completely in the point he makes. We have taught a lot of people about laws and morality and very little about Jesus. Joe writes:
I was once asked to be on the board of directors for a program named, Mission for Biblical Literacy. It was started by a few Southern Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian theologians and pastors. When I asked what was the purpose of the group, I was told that Protestants were not reading the Bible as faithfully as they used to and that they were trying to respond to that problem and find a way to interest their people in going back to the scriptures. When I asked them how they conducted scripture programs they told me that they start with Genesis and spend so many months reading and discussing the contents of the Book of Genesis, then they went to Exodus and discussed that, and so on. I commented that so far they had learned nothing about Jesus but were becoming very knowledgeable Jews.
I asked, “ And after a year of that how many were still coming to the classes?” “Many had dropped out,” they said. At that point I suggested, “Why don’t you do what Phillip did when the Spirit directed him to pursue the Ethiopian official on his way back to his country after attending the Passover services in Jerusalem. Phillip caught up with the man who was sitting in his chariot reading the prophet Isaiah. When Phillip approached him and asked him what he was reading, the official told him that he was reading Isaiah and wanted to know who the prophet was talking about, himself or someone else. Philip suggested he get out of the chariot and proceeded to explain to him about Jesus. The man was totally overwhelmed and so impressed, he asked Phillip to baptize him, which Phillip did right on the spot. Phillip did not continue the discussion about Isaiah; he immediately started talking about Jesus. And that was how the apostles evangelized. They told stories of all that they experienced during the many days and months and years they spent with Jesus, whom they came to realize was their Messiah and their Savior. And that is the only effective way to evangelize, especially today.
If there is anything that I have learned about mission and evangelism, after six decades of trying to influence people to become followers of Christ, it is simply this–to evangelize is to present Jesus (especially his whole life story, with proper emphasis on his death, burial and resurrection, not so much as a theology but as a historical witness to who Jesus is and what he did to show that he loved us, in the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit, by means of the New Testament narrative that the four great evangelists wrote for this very purpose in the latter half of the first century.