November 6, 2008
In the center of Nazareth rises the largest Church in the Middle East. The Basilica of the Annunciation built in 1969 consecrates the spot where Mary surrendered herself to God’s plan announced by the angel Gabriel. Here, in a town so insignificant that it is not even named in the Old Testament, the Word became flesh. The Son of God began his human life when Mary, by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, conceived him in her womb. Mary, the first disciple, and the Savior within her womb. How small, how quiet, how unpretentious was the beginning of the Church!
In the courtyard of this modern basilica, there is a beautiful mosaic that translates into art Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed in Matthew 13:31-32. The tiny mustard seed looks no bigger than a speck of black pepper. Yet, once planted, it can grow as high as 15 feet. In the Middle East, it becomes so large that a man on horseback can ride under it. Its branches stretch wide enough to welcome all the birds of the air.
In telling the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus is actually citing the prophet Ezekiel 17:22-23. The image of a tree with large branches offering sanctuary for birds was a familiar Old Testament image for God’s kingdom which would one day give shelter to the nations. Jesus certainly knew his humble beginnings in Nazareth. He knew the humble beginning of his Church. But he also knew that the Church he founded on Peter would grow to welcome all.
Evangelization is all about the Church growing and welcoming all. For many Catholics, the word ‘evangelization’ sounds uncomfortably non-Catholic. We are indebted to Pope John Paul II for reintroducing us to a word that is part of our biblical heritage.
When Jesus inaugurated his public ministry, he defined his life work as ‘evangelization.’ “In his first visit to Nazareth during his public ministry, Jesus explains his mission. The third evangelist deliberately situates the event as the first account of the public ministry of Jesus. For Luke, the event is programmatic. It unlocks the meaning of all that is to follow” (
Evangelization: Grace and Vocation, 7).
In the synagogue of Nazareth, Jesus speaks before the people who know him best to reveal to them what they could not know on their own. He opens the scroll of Isaiah to the passage that speaks of the Spirit-filled prophet of the last days. Jesus tells his townsfolk and us, “The Spirit of the Lord… has anointed me to bring the good news (ευαγγελιζω: to evangelize)” (Lk 4:18). Jesus is the evangelizer that the world is waiting for. He brings the good news of God’s love in a way the world can see, hear and touch the presence of God loving us. Evangelization is nothing other than the Church continuing this mission of Jesus.
Other articles on Evangelization to follow.