Omnia omnibus. That was the motto for the seminary I attended, back in the 1980s. It means, ‘all things to all people’. Obviously, this is a quote taken from that bit of St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we listened to today. To give it its fuller reference, ‘So though I am not a slave of any man I have made myself the slave of everyone so as to win as many as I could. For the weak I made myself weak: I made myself all things to all [people] in order to save some at any cost; and I still do this, for the sake of the gospel, to have a share in its blessings’.
As Paul said, he did this for the sake of the Gospel. The gospel Paul is referring to is not one of the four capital ‘G’ gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They hadn’t yet been written when Paul was composing his apostolic letters. No, the ‘gospel’ here is very much the ‘good news’ about Jesus Christ, and the life by which the Corinthian Christians were being invited to share in with Paul. It is his embracing of this good news, this gospel, that drove him to become a ‘slave’ to make known this news in any way possible. To put his words in a different way, everything he did, he did for the sake of the gospel, so that some might be saved.
The nature of this gospel is well identified in the short passage we listened to from the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel. Jesus was among his own people, in Capernaum, when he began his saving mission. Note the form it took – firstly, worship of God in his local synagogue and the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law; then, the healing, forgiving and comforting of many of his neighbours; followed by time in quiet and personal prayer; and finally going off to other towns to proclaim the same message of hope and renewal.
In all of this – the many things he did for many people – Jesus was putting flesh on his words, and making real God’s promises, ‘I have come to bring good news to the poor, sight to the blind, liberty to captives, a jubilee for all.’ That’s what “gospel” is.
Returning to Paul, his total commitment to proclaiming this gospel in any way he could, was the mark of his life. By this I do not mean Paul had made a career in gospel preaching. He hadn’t; hence, his remark about not being paid. The gospel was life itself for him, and it is this that he wished to share with others – his focus was a life worthy of living, not a living worthy of an earning. Why would he do all things for all people in proclaiming this gospel of Jesus Christ? Because he saw in it the opportunity for all to hear and receive such good news.
Each Sunday we listen to snippets of this good news from the writings of those who, along with Paul, sought to share it with those around them. Each snippet is a bit of a revelation, gradually showing the fuller picture. Unlike in Paul’s time, we have the advantage of having these words of proclamation gathered together in the Bible, the treasured stories and poems, letters and homilies of God among us, for us, and with us. To receive the gospel today, all we need to do is take up the words of God, either by reading or by listening, as they come to us in our holy Scriptures. They are words of good news for us, words by which we learn that we are saved.
Banner image: Sacred Heart Church, Berlin