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Breath of the Spirit
Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.
Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.
...We do know there’ll always be people out there listening for the voice of the shepherd. John’s Jesus is convinced of that.
APRIL 17TH, 2016: FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Acts 13:14, 43-52
Revelation 7:9, 14b-17
No one sits down on a beautiful sunny day, no worry in the world, and writes Scripture. If our sacred authors didn’t have some problems bugging them, we’d have no Bible. They only write because something or someone needs to be confronted. That’s certainly the case with Luke/Acts.
One of the issues prompting Luke to compose his double volume work was the claim of some Jews that the historical Jesus planned to destroy their religion by bringing huge numbers of Gentiles into it without obligating to keep the 613 Laws of Moses. That certainly was what some of his followers were doing fifty years after his death and resurrection; Luke’s day and age.
The evangelist counters their argument, claiming Jesus and his disciples originally evangelized only Jews. Non-Jews came into the picture only after Jews rejected his call to reform. Gentiles simply were benefitting from what Jews had discarded.
Today’s Acts pericope contains one of several statements of Luke’s thesis. “Both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, ‘It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you (Jews) first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.’” In other words, God’s word, spoken through Jesus, isn’t going to be dead-ended just because those to whom it was originally directed, reject it.
It’s significant that, in this passage, the Gentiles who accept the word are a unique group: God fearers. That’s the biblical term usually employed for non-Jews who are very favorable to Jews; frequently attending synagogue services, and even keeping some of the Mosaic regulations.
Historians have recently delved into these individuals, reflecting on their position in various Jewish communities. Since they seem to have been generous contributors to Jewish causes – even building some synagogues – their becoming Christians certainly created tension between Jews and Jesus’ followers.
Yet it’s interesting to note that Paul and Barnabas never stopped preaching when those whom they expected to eagerly receive their word, eventually rejected it. They simply began to realize God’s word, as Deutero-Isaiah discovered five centuries before, is alive, and that there’s always someone around who’s eager to benefit from that life – even if it isn’t those whom we logically expected to benefit from it.
I originally taught Scripture to Catholic high school girls, who seemed bored by almost everything I taught. Then one morning, when called into the hall to receive a message from the office, I discovered an eighty some year-old retired nun standing in the corridor outside my classroom door. When I asked if I could help with something, she just smiled and said. “No. I come here and listen whenever you’re teaching. We never had many Scripture classes in the convent during my formation. I’m learning a lot from you.” Obviously I was teaching the wrong group. Along with high school students, I’ve been teaching adults ever since.
We have no idea who’s going to be in that great heavenly multitude the author of Revelation refers to in our second reading, nor do we have any secret information on what our role is and will be in helping gather that multitude. But we do know there’ll always be people out there listening for the voice of the shepherd. John’s Jesus is convinced of that.
As other Christs, our job is to never stop preaching that word. Deutero-Isaiah was convinced it always has an effect, no matter how or to whom it’s proclaimed. But it does bother me that the gospel Jesus was frequently criticized and dismissed because he preached it to sinners. Wouldn’t you think the “good folk” would do more with it than sinners? Does that create a problem?