Fourth Sunday of Easter
Amazed that the World Obstructs what One Does yet Hears Heaven's Call
First Reading (Acts 13:14, 43-52): The
Gentiles believe in the Lord
“When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul. Then both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly saying, ‘It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ “ (Acts 13: 45-47)
Paul is called the ‘Apostle to the Gentiles’ because he wanted to spread the news of salvation to the ends of the earth. But one would hardly have guessed that the reason he started to preach to the Gentiles sprang from an unfortunate incident which in turn came from the malicious intent of some of his hearers
.This was the incident. Paul and Barnabas had spoken very successfully in Antioch. After they gave an inspiring sermon in the synagogue, “the people urged them to speak about these things the next sabbath.” (Acts 13:24) On the following Sabbath many people rushed excitedly to the synagogue: -“almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord” (Acts 13:44). Unfortunately this aroused the jealousy of some people, much as a Chinese idiom says, “if you are not the envy of another person, you are a mediocre man.’(1) Paul of course was already a well-known preacher, not just an ordinary person.. Therefore, “when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy: and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul.”
Paul and Barnabas then said to them, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles.”
We believe that God can turn anything bad into good. There is an Irish idiom, “When God closes a door, He opens a window”. Sometimes this window is actually bigger than the door! Therefore, the Jews’ evil intention became the 'kairos' - the sacred moment - during which Paul and Barnabas began to proclaim the Good News to the Gentiles. Humanly speaking no one would have thought this could ever happen, but it was in God's plan and no human force could destroy it.
Life is complicated and unpredictable and there are risks everywhere. We must constantly make choices as we live out our lives and follow God's will. Of course at times we fail to make good choices and wise decisions. But at times our choices and decisions are really not the best ones. This may be because having made good choices and decisions in the past, we no longer try to find even 'better' ones. As a result, the 'good' choice becomes an enemy of a 'better' one and a 'good choice' becomes an obstacle to looking for a 'better choice.'
To succeed in preaching to the Jews of course was a very good thing, but if only that had occurred, we would not have seen the appearance of Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, because Paul would have used all his time and energy only within Jewish society, preaching to the Jews.
Whenever we meet frustration and failure, and the future seems uncertain, it may very well be a turning point in our lives or the start of some breakthrough. We must not only look despairingly at the door which closed so unexpectedly, but we can and should look around us and wait quietly to see if almost without our notice, another window is opening before us.
Today is Vocation Sunday. Actually all Christians have been called to work for the Church and for God. God uses every possible opportunity to beckon to us. God speaks to us in our hearts, through Scripture, through the people around us, and through all the changing events of our lives. God is present in the gatherings of our faith communities and in all the 'signs of the times' of the world.
When Paul and Barnabas realized that preaching to the Jews was 'the end of a road,' they could hear and see that it was actually a sign from God calling them to preach to the Gentiles. Changes that take place in our world often are actually the voice of God sending a message from heaven.
In reality God needs us, just as God needed Paul and Barnabas. God needs our hands and voices to proclaim the Good News and to be witnesses to it. We must complete the task Christ has left unfinished, go to place he was unable to go, preach the Good News to those he never met face to face. There is nothing better than to devote one's entire life to that.
Xun Zi in 'An Exhortation to Learning' wrote: “Climb to high places and wave your arms, not that your arms have lengthened but that people from afar can see you. Face the leeward side of the wind and shout, not that your voice has increased but that hearers can hear it more clearly. A gentleman is not born any different, except that he is good at taking advantage of things.”(2) When you stand on a high place and wave your arms, people much further away can see you. When you are on the leeward side of the wind and shout, more people can hear you. According to Xun Zi, this is 'taking advantage of outside forces.' Through us God can spread the Good News. Is this not one form of 'taking advantage of things?'
Today John's Gospel says, “My sheep hear
my voice, I know them, and they follow me.” (Jn 10:27).