Words of THE WORD
Ordinary Time Week 5: Sunday

Gospel excerpt:
“He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach (κηρύξω, keruxo) there also. For this purpose have I come.” (Mark 1:38)

Jesus is ‘with the word’ in the Synagogue. He heals Simon’s mother-in-law in her home. Jesus communes with His Father in the desert. Each of these actions of Jesus, occurring in a definitive place at a particular time, give insight to His mission and ministry in the created order and will unfold in intensity as His Public Ministry moves from the region of Galilee to Jerusalem where this King will be crucified. Yet, from His own lips, Jesus frames the purpose of His work “to preach.”

The Greek verb κηρύσσω (kerysso, ‘to cry aloud,’ ‘to announce’) has roots in the world of public Greek games. In that setting, image what it would take to be heard? The act of announcing, κηρύσσω, minimally required a powerful voice capable of being heard above the din of the crowd. Interestingly in the Greek world of antiquity, the person capable of κηρύσσω and doing it well became an important person in the community, occupying a prestigious social position. κηρύσσω is not so much about ‘screaming’ as it is about ‘being heard in the midst of other voices.’ While the New Testament certainly makes use of κηρύσσω in various passages, it is the action of κηρύσσω that is paramount, not the person doing the announcing, the basis of the Christian ministerial quip, ‘it is all about the Message, not the messenger.’ The point here is that κηρύσσω, especially in its original usage, is a very vibrant and dynamic word used to express the vitality of an essential message. We may be lulled into an image of preaching that is boring, monotone, blah-blah-blah, yada-yada-yada, but κηρύσσω says otherwise.

In antiquity, κηρύσσω was always a public act. “To announce” implied a person sounding a message and someone receiving the content of the announcement. Interestingly, depending upon how the listener was referenced in a given text, κηρύσσω was not just content but also the act of responding to the announcement by ‘coming close to the announcer’ or ‘being drawn together by the voice of the announcer.’ For this reason, κηρύσσω was also understood as a formal act. The announcer had to have some commission, some appointment, some recognition among the people he was competent in both the message’s content as well as delivery. Scholars note that while the content of κηρύσσω had to be accurate, it was not the same as a scholarly discourse or lesson. The content and delivery that is κηρύσσω suggests that this action is not so much about a depth of teaching but rather the delivery of a word – meaningful and authentic – that will focus the attention of listeners and draw them to the announcer.

Jesus’ Self-stated purpose — “to preach” and the meaning of what is involved in the act of κηρύσσω — offers great clarity for today’s preachers and those who must endure that preaching. Ideas and thoughts abound as to what a homily is and what the preacher must do. κηρύσσω suggests that preaching be directed to drawing people to the Person, Jesus — save the exegesis and particular study of the Text to the classroom. 

Keep your family safe, O Lord,
with unfailing care,
that, relying solely
on the hope of heavenly grace,
they may be defended always
by your protection.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Glory to the Father
and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit:
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen