A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling] he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’ Moved with pity, Jesus] stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’ Immediately the leprosy] left him, and he was made clean. After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, saying to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ But he went out and began to proclaim it freely…
It is quite surprising, but only one person named in the New Testament is referred to as an ‘Evangelist’. Others clearly fulfil the role and evangelists are listed among the five-fold ministry of the Church in Ephesians 4, but only Philip gets to be called one (Acts 21:8). And this is interesting, because, officially, Philip should not have been doing this!
Philip was one of ‘The Seven’ appointed as deacons in the Jerusalem Church. As such he was set apart to take over the practical and caring ministry of the Church, precisely so that others could focus on proclaiming the word (Acts 6). And yet, it seems that Philip just could not help himself! Wherever he went, he was telling people about Jesus. Eventually the nickname ‘The Evangelist’ stuck.
Time and time again in the Gospels, evangelism happens through ordinary people who could not help themselves. Quite spontaneously, they gossiped about what Jesus had done for them – even when, like the leper mentioned in our reading, they were specifically told not to! They were bubbling with good news to share.
Looking at the Church of today, we may find ourselves asking what went wrong? Why do we need reminding all the time (as Paul had to remind Timothy) not to forget to ‘do the work of an evangelist’? (2 Tim 4:5). Is it really that bad that we’d sooner forget about it?
Perhaps this is because of fixed (and not always favourable) ideas of what an Evangelist is and does? Can we break away from these stereotypes and simply encourage a free and natural sharing of what God has done for us, personally and corporately, in Christ?
What excites you about Jesus? Are you bubbling to tell of what he has done for you?
“Don’t say anything to anyone!” you said, Lord, but they could not help themselves and they rushed to tell everyone. “Go into the world and proclaim the good news!” you say, Lord, and we fight shy, find our excuses, and keep quiet. Give us new hearts, enlivened by your Spirit, eager to share what you have done for us in Christ.
The Rev’d Nick Stanyon is Synod Evangelist for West Midlands Synod