The Christian gospel is good news – that is the literal translation of the word also translated “gospel”. But sometimes you read a passage like Luke 21:5-19, and see reference to the destruction of fine buildings, war, disasters, persecution and betrayal, and think, “Good news”?
But the gospel is indeed good news, because these evils are recognised. It is so easy to reduce Christian faith to a parody: “Be nice to people, enjoy the countryside, help those less fortunate.” There is nothing wrong in any of those, of course – but without a strong reason to motivate a life of service and sacrifice, it is only platitude – so much hot air.
The reason comes as Jesus speaks of the sometimes painful reality of human life. And it is the fact that he not only speaks of evil, but faces it himself, that gives weight to the way he leads. Jesus faced a plot to kill him, was slandered and betrayed. It is after he has been flogged and during his crucifixion that he forgives (as he had taught others). By facing the evil of the real world, he overcomes it and offers us freedom.
The good news is about a kingdom where peace and justice rule, and healing and truth are found – a kingdom open to all who will admit their need of forgiveness and follow the one who leads the way through death to life. Without the reference to the hard realities, it might seem just another bit of wishful thinking – a tale for children, to be left behind with childish things. But a gospel which depends on one who lived this, went to his death by torture forgiving, and returned to encourage those who, despite their failures, wanted to be his followers; – that is a gospel for the real world, and for people who have grown to know some of how hard it can be.