Today is the 4th Sunday of Easter, and the first reading comes from the Acts of the Apostles. It tells of the missionary work of Paul and Barnabas in what is modern-day Turkey.
Paul and Barnabas carried on from Perga till they reached Antioch in Pisidia. Here they went to synagogue on the Sabbath and took their seats.
When the meeting broke up many Jews and devout converts joined Paul and Barnabas, and in their talks with them Paul and Barnabas urged them to remain faithful to the grace God had given them.
The next sabbath almost the whole town assembled to hear the word of God. When they saw the crowds, the Jews, prompted by jealousy, used blasphemies and contradicted everything Paul said. Then Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly. ‘We had to proclaim the word of God to you first, but since you have rejected it, since you do not think yourselves worthy of eternal life, we must turn to the pagans. For this is what the Lord commanded us to do when he said:
I have made you a light for the nations,
so that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.’
It made the pagans very happy to hear this and they thanked the Lord for his message; all who were destined for eternal life became believers. Thus the word of the Lord spread through the whole countryside.
But the Jews worked upon some of the devout women of the upper classes and the leading men of the city and persuaded them to turn against Paul and Barnabas and expel them from their territory. So they shook the dust from their feet in defiance and went off to Iconium; but the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
One of the ways in which the Bible, and the Church’s reading of it, helps us today is by preserving and re-telling stories of failure. The Old Testament and the New Testament are full of stories of people failing to understand, failing to follow through if they do seem to understand, confronting opposition and persecution. These negatives really ought never to come as a surprise when we encounter them in our lives, ministry or mission today. They are par for the course. Indeed Martin Luther claimed ‘persecution’ as one of the marks of the Church, alongside ‘One’, ‘Holy’, ‘Catholic’ and ‘Apostolic’ – though perhaps that was special-pleading.
The bigger picture of the Bible’s story and stories is of God’s over-arching love and mercy that calls us on, and offers protection, encouragement, hope even in greatest darkness.
In today’s reading Paul and Barnabas respond to opposition with apparently immediate joy. We may be a little slower to admit joy into our hearts, but please God we will never keep at at bay for too long.
- What challenges do you face?
- What helps you?
- What undermines you?
Window and place of proclamation of the word at Paul’s Place, an evangelical centre in Antalya, Turkey. (c) 2013, Allen Morris.