After Paul and Barnabas had proclaimed the good news
to that city
and made a considerable number of disciples,
they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch.
They strengthened the spirits of the disciples
and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying,
"It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships
to enter the kingdom of God."
They appointed elders for them in each church and,
with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord
in whom they had put their faith.
Then they traveled through Pisidia and reached Pamphylia.
After proclaiming the word at Perga they went down to Attalia.
From there they sailed to Antioch,
where they had been commended to the grace of God
for the work they had now accomplished.
And when they arrived, they called the church together
and reported what God had done with them
and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.
Then I, John, saw a new heaven and a new earth.
The former heaven and the former earth had passed away,
and the sea was no more.
I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem,
coming down out of heaven from God,
prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
"Behold, God's dwelling is with the human race.
He will dwell with them and they will be his people
and God himself will always be with them as their God.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes,
and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain,
for the old order has passed away."
The One who sat on the throne said,
"Behold, I make all things new."
When Judas had left them, Jesus said,
"Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him.
If God is glorified in him,
God will also glorify him in himself,
and God will glorify him at once.
My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.
I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another."
What do we do when the opposite of what we expect will happen actually happens? Are we so busy concentrating on what should have been that we don’t even notice what actually took place?
Years ago I experienced some of “that” while visiting friends in Paris. One evening they took me to meet their pastor in Belleville (France that is.) During the introductions, the priest smiled, shook my hand and said something to me. I quickly turned to one of my friends and instinctively said, “Tell Father I’m glad to meet him, but please tell him I don’t speak French.” My friend hesitated for a few seconds, then quietly informed me, “He’s speaking English to you!”
We heard about a similar happening in last week’s readings when, beyond all expectations, most Jews who encountered the good news rejected the faith of Jesus while many Gentiles accepted it. Jesus’ first followers originally presumed non-Jews would have little in common with this Jewish carpenter and the reform he preached. Yet by the time Luke composes his Acts of the Apostles in the mid-80s, Gentiles are making up the vast majority of the Christian community while the percentage of Jews in the church falls year after year.
A unique Christian pattern is being created. Followers of the risen Jesus are expected to constantly “hang loose.” Those who are serious about accepting his/her faith can never be certain where he/she is going to take them next. The invitation could come from the most unexpected people, and lead down the most overlooked roads. Luke zeros in on this phenomenon in today’s Acts pericope.
When Paul and Barnabas returned to the community in Antioch which had originally commissioned and sent them out to spread Jesus’ faith, the church couldn’t help but be amazed at the report they gave. Though they sent them to evangelize Jews, they actually converted Gentiles! And when they backtracked through these new communities the pair discovered they were so generously adapting their lives to Jesus’ faith that they could begin appointing leaders among them. Christianity was much more than just a fad.
Slowly but surely, Jesus’ followers are discovering their faith is creating what the author of Revelation often refers to as a “new heaven and a new earth.” Right before their eyes, “the former heaven and the former earth had passed away.”
Yet in the midst of all these changes, there’s one constant in the faith of Jesus: love. Everything isn’t up for grabs. John’s Jesus couldn’t be clearer in his Last Supper discourse. “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” It’s this love which demands the frequent changes. The same act of love doesn’t always show love to everyone at the same time. As Paul and Barnabas discovered, other Christs have to reflect not only on what should be, but what actually is.
I, for instance, was always taught to expect dire “things” to result from inviting non-Catholic Christians to participate in the Eucharist. These transubstantiation unbelievers would probably do something to disrespect the host – or worse. (I clearly remember horror stories of people taking the host out of their mouths and conducting “black masses!”)
Yet in my personal experiences I’ve encountered nothing but good when the “rules” are broken and intercommunion happens. Not only are the recipients profoundly grateful to receive the Body of Christ, but it creates a oneness among the participants that can’t be accomplished any other way. Eucharist is no longer a reward, but a help.
During those times, is the risen Jesus actually speaking English to us?