Good News You Can’t Share

Second Sunday of Lent

I went home to see my family a couple of months ago to celebrate my parents’ anniversary. My niece’s boyfriend had come home from the west coast a few days prior to pay my sister and brother-in-law a visit, presumably to ask their blessing before he proposed to their daughter. They had been dating a couple of years. He is in the Navy and relocated to California for school. She followed not long after, got an apartment, and found a job. And I can guess they had been making future plans. Accidentally, I found out all the details because my sister couldn’t keep the good news to herself. She had to tell me.

“Why?” I asked her as we stood around the island in the kitchen. “Why me?”

“Because the boyfriend came to see us. He made it look like he came to see his mother who was not well, which was also true. But he really came to ask our blessing.”

“That’s still not a good enough reason to tell me,” I said. “You didn’t need to drag me into this. I didn’t need to know. I was fine not knowing. Besides, you really shouldn’t even be telling anyone.”

“But it’s good news,” she tried to reason with me. “I had to tell somebody.”

Later that evening as we gathered for dinner at a local restaurant, my sister stood up and called for everyone’s attention. Then she announced she had good news. I knew what she was doing, so I jumped in as quickly as I could.

“No, you don’t. We just want to wish mom and dad a happy anniversary!” I glared at her, and whispered. “You can’t say anything.”

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because it’s not your announcement to make.”

“But I’m her mother. Her good news is my good news.”

“No. He hasn’t even proposed yet.”

“But he will soon.”

“And you will have to pretend you know nothing until then, so your daughter can make the announcement herself first.” I couldn’t believe I had to convince my own sister she can’t say a thing. “Why? It’s not your good news to share.”

Needless to say, my niece finally called her mother, then announced it on Facebook. They took a walk on the beach at sunset. All of a sudden they were surrounded by dozens of votive lights. He dropped to one knee and popped the question. She said yes. Yada, yada, yada. The sky was ablaze in red and orange, the choirs of angels burst into song. Someone took pictures. I heard it was amazing.

Have you ever had news so good but you couldn’t tell anybody? Or you weren’t supposed to? It’s no fun having good news if you can’t tell anybody. I imagine Peter, James, and John would not have been able to tell anyone about their vision with Jesus on the mountain even if they could. First of all, they didn’t know exactly what did happen. As amazing as it was, any description would simply be beyond belief. And they had no clue what it even meant. Then Jesus said not to tell anyone until after the Son of Man is raised from the dead. Well, keeping good news for a time until you can actually share it isn’t as bad as not sharing it at all. But it didn’t help that they had no idea what it meant to be raised from the dead. Was that perhaps code for when pigs fly?

The reading from Genesis introduces Abram. We can’t be sure how old he was at the time, but 4 chapters later when his son Ishmael was born, Abram was 86[1]. His other son Isaac was born another 5 chapters later when Abram was 100[2]. You will have to read the juicy details on your own. I was quite confused because the chronology is all messed up. Abram’s father Terah was 70 when Abram was born[3], and 205 when he died[4]. And Terah’s father Nahor was 29 when Terah was born; and apparently he had other children[5]. I don’t get how they calculated a person’s age. So I won’t even bother.

What I was getting at was that when God told Abram he would make of him “a great nation,” it was without a doubt fantastic news. Yet Abram and Sarai had as yet no children, which made their good news a little iffy. They would have told everyone if it also didn’t remind them that something fairly essential was evidently still missing. There wasn’t even a bun in the oven. So they probably decided to keep the news to themselves for now. Maybe they would tell everyone … when pigs fly.

In his second letter, the apostle Paul reminded the young bishop Timothy that there would be no shortage of hardship in bearing witness to the gospel. This gospel of Jesus Christ, this good news proclaimed God’s mercy and reconciliation to sinners. And now they have been made co-heirs with Christ to eternal glory. God had promised to lend his strength to sustain them through their trials. That was good news indeed! But it wasn’t quite the good news that would make anyone delirious with joy. You see, there’s good news that’s all sugar and helium. Then there’s good news that’s a tender hug when a tragic accident happens, or someone we love is dealing with a grim prognosis.

“The accident victim was airlifted to the medical center, and the doctors are expecting a full recovery. He’ll have to deal with pins and rods for a while, and probably a neck brace, but the car is fully covered by insurance, and he’ll be up and about before you know it.” [big hug, good news]

“They caught the cancer early, thank God. It could have been worse. Can you imagine her poor husband and those young children growing up without a mother?” [big hug, good news]

For sure, the promise of God’s help is always good news, but in the face of our present hardship and suffering, it is never comforting enough. Besides, our burden is even heavier when we only have more hardship and suffering to contend with. I find I am cautiously optimistic when people share their burdens with me. I try my hardest to not resort to platitudes. Comforting words are difficult to find. I don’t like to tell them to have faith, that God will be their strength. I see it in their eyes. I hear it in their voice. “Whoop-de-doo.” So I tell them, “Call me. Let’s sit down and visit awhile.” I avoid promises I can’t deliver.

So the vision of his transfiguration that Jesus shared with Peter, James, and John was good news beyond imagining. But he knew they would have to climb yet another mountain, Calvary, and by comparison it would be horrific and devastating and awful. Only with time and distance would they even begin to understand how any of this was ultimately good news. It’s probably why Jesus didn’t try to explain or talk about what they saw. He knew it wasn’t his good news to share. That would be good news for the Holy Spirit to share at some later time, when the blind receive their sight, and the deaf receive their hearing, and the dead receive new life.

Not all good news will sound good at first. With time and distance eventually. And we can count on the Holy Spirit … because pigs won’t be flying anytime soon.

Rolo B Castillo © 2017

[1] Genesis 16: 16

[2] Genesis 21: 5

[3] Genesis 11: 26

[4] Genesis 11: 32

[5] Genesis 11: 24

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