Toward the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, we hear the Pentecost sermon of St. Peter after the descent of the Holy Spirit. In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we hear the first sermon of St. Paul after his conversion. Of course, it is important to remember that this sermon is written by St. Luke, not St. Paul. St. Luke places these words in St. Paul’s mouth on the occasion of his missionary journey to Antioch. The sermon is given in the synagogue of Antioch on the Sabbath. Interestingly enough, the sermon begins by acknowledging both St. Paul’s fellow Jews as well as all who are God-fearing. There would not have been any Gentiles in the synagogue, so already we see St. Luke’s hand at work as he includes those who are traditionally left out.
What follows the introduction is a general explanation of salvation history beginning with their sojourn in Egypt. Tomorrow we will hear more of this sermon.
The whole purpose of this sermon is to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus, the central and foundational element of our faith. Jesus has been raised from the dead. Through his resurrection he has saved Israel. At this point in time, even though St. Luke includes the Gentiles in the introduction, St. Paul is simply speaking to his fellow Jews.
While we probably don’t give much thought to it today, we should remember that God was revealed first to the Jews. When they failed to accept God’s Son, the revelation was also given to the Gentiles.
I am sure that there are those who might feel that the Gentiles are a second thought, the ones to whom the apostles turned when they failed to convince the Jewish hierarchy. However, that would be a serious misreading of the message. If we look carefully at the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, it becomes evident that God always intended to include the entire world in the plan of salvation. Unfortunately, the Jewish people did not hear the message as it was intended, just as they did not hear the message of Jesus as he intended it to be heard.
Sadly, we continue in this kind of thinking today. Exclusion seems to be the watch word of our culture and our society. Be it racial bias or religious prejudice, there is still so much about us that tends to exclude others. Just this week here in Chicago, where I write this blog every day, we are having to deal with the ugly remarks made by a member of the Chicago hockey team. Of course, he was angry and frustrated. However, instead of pouring his anger and frustration into a stronger effort on the ice, he chose instead to insult a member of the other team with a homophobic slur. Sure, now he is contrite. However, his reaction is not that far divorced from the everyday reality of our culture and society. The fact of the matter is that we find it difficult to accept difference. Yet who among us can claim to be the same as everyone else. If God made every snow flake different, why would he create human beings who are exactly the same?
God knows not the differences we have dreamed up!
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator