Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Peace I Leave With You; My Peace I Give You. Do Not Let Your Hearts Be Troubled Or Afraid.

Tuesday of Fifth Week of Easter
Reading I
Acts 14:19-28
In those days,
some Jews from Antioch and Iconium
arrived and won over the crowds.
They stoned Paul
and dragged him out of the city,
supposing that he was dead.
But when the disciples gathered around him,
he got up and entered the city.
On the following day
he left with Barnabas for Derbe.

After they 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 presbyters
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 they spent no little time with the disciples.
We come today to the final description of Paul’s and Barnabas’ first missionary journey. Yesterday we left them at Lystra in the embarrassing situation of being taken for gods because of the cure of a paralysed man. But their glory was to be short-lived; their enemies were on their tail.

Those Jews whose hostility they had incurred in the towns of Antioch and Iconium turned up and successfully stirred up the feelings of the people of Lystra against the two apostles. (We need to remember that there were other Jews in these towns who had become Christian believers.)

Reflecting the fickleness of crowds, the people who just now were treating the apostles as gods now had Paul stoned, leaving him for dead. It seems this was done within the city rather than at the usual place of execution outside the walls. This could indicate that it was a spontaneous outburst of mob violence rather than a formal execution. But Paul was what we would call a “tough cookie” and, as soon as his disciples gathered around him, he was suddenly back on his feet again. (Is there a hint of a miraculously quick recovery in Luke’s description?) It is also possible that his future companion, Timothy, was present. Timothy, as mentioned earlier, seems to have been a native of Lystra. Paul’s experience might have had the same effect on him as Stephen’s had on Saul (Paul).

With the courage that so often marks his actions, Paul went back into the town but the next day with Barnabas he moved on to Derbe, their last stop on this journey. Derbe was a border town in the south-eastern part of the Lycaonian region of Galatia. An inscription naming the city has been discovered about 50 km (30 miles) east of what was previously thought to be the city site. Here the two missionaries again proclaimed the Gospel and made “a considerable number of disciples”.

Paul must have been quite an impressive preacher, judging by his success in all the towns in which he spoke. One wonders if his being a Pharisee did not have an influence on his Jewish listeners, although it is clear that it also had a negative impact. If a devout Pharisee could be converted to the Way of Jesus, then maybe there was something in it. At the same time, others would see him as a total renegade to his Jewish faith.

Then they began their return journey going through each of the towns they had originally evangelised – Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch – and in which they had met such violent resistance. But one must remember that they had also made many Christian converts among both Jews and Gentiles. These would be the seeds of new churches in each place.

Paul “put fresh heart into the [newly-converted] disciples”. He preached and warned them of the trials and difficulties that they could expect to face – just as he did. This was a necessary condition to enter the kingdom.ch church a pastoral structure was set up for the first time with the appointing of‘presbyters’ or elders. With prayers and fasting, they were commended to the Lord. The ‘presbyters’ or ‘elders’ were community leaders chosen from among the communities by a laying on of hands. In this case, too, the elders were chosen by the apostles and not by the community. Our modern word ‘priest’ is a corruption of this word but they were not priests as we know the term now in the Catholic Church.

As the New Testament emphasises, we really have only one Priest, Jesus Christ who acts as Mediator and Bridge-builder (Pontifex) between us and God (cf. Letter to the Hebrews). From Pisidian Antioch Paul and Barnabas retraced their steps through Pisidia, Perga in Pamphylia and down to the coastal town of Attalia, the main port of Pamphylia. From there they went by ship back to Antioch in Syria, the city from which they had originally set out.

On their return to Antioch, the two apostles gave a complete report of their mission experiences and told of how God “had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles” and how well they had accepted the message of the Gospel. In fact, Paul and Barnabas had left behind not just individual believers but functioning communities with their own leadership. After their return, they stayed on in Antioch and “spent no little time with the disciples”, probably a year at least. Paul now seems to be fully accepted into the community which had been so suspicious of him earlier.

In our work for the Church we also need to report to the community what we are doing. We also need to submit ourselves to their evaluation and their encouragement. The work of the Church is never that of just one person be it pope, bishop, priest, religious or lay person. Still less, is the church a ‘service station’ where I just go to fulfil my private needs.

Meanwhile, the way is being prepared for the next great event in the history of the infant Church – the Council of Jerusalem, the Church’s very first Council. It will also be a major turning point in the direction the new community is taking.
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Psalm 145
Your friends make known, O Lord,
the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD,
and let your faithful ones bless you.
Let them discourse of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your might.
Your friends make known, O Lord,
the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Making known to men your might
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is a kingdom for all ages,
and your dominion endures through all generations.
Your friends make known, O Lord,
the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
May my mouth speak the praise of the LORD,
and may all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.
Your friends make known, O Lord,
the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
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John 14:27-31a
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives
do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts
be troubled or afraid.
You heard me tell you,
‘I am going away
and I will come back to you.’
If you loved me,
you would rejoice
that I am going to the Father;
for the Father is greater than I.
And now I have told you this
before it happens,
so that when it happens
you may believe.
I will no longer speak much with you,
for the ruler of the world is coming.
He has no power over me,
but the world must know
that I love the Father and that I do
ust as the Father has commanded me.”
As Jesus prepares to leave his disciples, he knows that they are fearful and upset and they will be all the more so when they see what people will soon be doing to him.

His farewell, then, includes a gift of peace. ‘Peace!’ (Shalom) is the normal Jewish greeting and farewell and Jesus uses it when he appears to his disciples after the Resurrection. Originally it meant soundness of body but it came to signify perfect happiness and the liberation which the Messiah was expected to bring. This is the very wholeness which is the aim of Jesus’ mission.

But it is not the peace as the ‘world’ understands it. Peace for Jesus is not simply the absence of violence. It is something much more positive, much deeper. Paradoxically, it can exist side by side with times of great turmoil. It is something internal, not external. It comes from an inner sense of security, of a conviction that God is with us and in us and that we are in the right place. It is something which not even the threat of death can take away.

It is something that the going away of Jesus cannot remove. Jesus tells his disciples that, if they really loved him, they should be happy that Jesus is going away to his Father. It is always a sign of love when our first priority is the wellbeing of the other person. He says the Father is greater than he, in the sense that as Father he has a kind of priority and is the ultimate source of all that is, though the Son does share all that with the Father and the Spirit. The full divine glory of the Son in Jesus is also veiled behind his humanity for the time being but after the Cross he will pass into the full glory of the Father.

It is obvious that Jesus’ place is with his Father. His disciples, if they love him, will know that and not get in his way. Of course, as Jesus points out, it is also in the disciples’ own interest that Jesus go away for only then will the Spirit come down on all of them.

The end is near. “The prince of this world is at hand.” But they are not to worry. The powers of evil are limited in what they can do and all that happens to Jesus is simply a manifestation of his great love for his Father and his desire to follow his Father’s wishes. Because, by undergoing what faces him, Jesus will be communicating to the world the tremendous love of the Father for each one of us.

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