Things simply do not work out the way we plan them. As a matter of fact, there is a rather familiar quip that goes, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” When things don’t go as planned, most of us will look for another way to accomplish the task. That certainly seems to be the case in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles.
Both Paul and Barnabas began much the same as the other apostles; namely, preaching the Good News to the children on Israel, God’s Chosen People. However, when this audience refused to place their faith in Jesus as the Promised Messiah, Paul and Barnabas find a receptive audience in the Gentiles.
A week after Paul and Barnabas had been preaching in the synagogue of Antioch, almost the entire town turns out to hear them preach again. This incited the Jews to jealousy. Again, let us remember that there are two things about the culture of the Middle East that help us understand what is at the heart of this dispute. First of all, this culture was driven by the pursuit of honor and the avoidance of shame. Secondly, these people believed that there was a finite amount of every commodity, both physical and immaterial. Consequently, when Paul and Barnabas seem to garner the attention and favor of the crowd, the Jews became jealous because they believed that Paul and Barnabas were taking what was theirs; namely, the high regard and honor that had been theirs in the eyes of the citizens of Antioch. They were not about to let this happen. Their jealousy is all about maintaining their sense of honor and prestige in the community. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that the Gentiles were filled with joy by the preaching of Paul and Barnabas. Again, this would not have been seen as a good thing in the eyes of the Jewish leadership.
The persecution which ensued drove Paul and Barnabas from Antioch. However, as we have heard before, the persecution also served as a validation for Paul and Barnabas who saw in it proof that they were doing God’s will. If Jesus, the Just One, had suffered at the hands of the Jewish leadership, then their suffering was evidence that they were simply following in the footsteps of Jesus, their leader.
Once again, the reading also provides us with ample evidence that the growth of the community was one of St. Luke’s themes in this work.
It also needs to be said that while the Acts of the Apostles records the activity of the early missionaries, provides evidence of the growth of the community, and introduces us to the witness of the apostles, it also speaks to us of our duty, or our mission. The task of evangelization now falls to us. The commission which Jesus gave as he returned to the Father is the task of every member of the Church.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M.