A call within a call – Wednesday, 4th Week in Easter – Acts 12:24-13:5a
The first seven chapters of the Acts of the Apostles might be titled, the Church among the Jews. The next five chapters, eight through twelve could be titled the Church in transition from Jews to Gentiles and the last sixteen chapters, chapters thirteen through twenty-eight, could well be titled the Church among the Gentiles.
Today’s text draws chapter twelve to a close while opening a whole new world to evangelisation as we step into chapter thirteen. In chapter thirteen we will hear of the first of the three ‘missionary journeys’ of Paul. Notice that at this stage the Bible mentions his name as Saul and not Paul. This indicates something rather beautiful; that conversion is not a moment but a journey. When Saul fell off his horse on the road to Damascus, he did not rise us as Paul. The journey to the Lord, very often, is still fraught with the sins of our past, sins we need to address. So, don’t be too disheartened when you fail in your resolve to be ‘converted to the lord’; remember conversion is a journey not a moment.
But before we come to the first missionary journey itself, chapter 12:24 tells us that “the word of God continued to advance and gain adherents.” As I have often said, a line in scripture has a lifetime beneath it. Sure, we are told that the word of God began to advance and while it did it experienced both trials and triumphs. We know that Saul the zealous persecutor has been converted; that was a triumph. We also hear of trials. So far, we have read of two major persecutions that have taken place in the Church; and we are only in chapter twelve and we know that there would be more. Then we read of another triumph in the midst of the trials, the ‘royal persecutor’ King Herod was struck down by an angel because he did not give glory to God. Clearly, we learn in just one verse 12:24 that God is in charge of his Church, he is her protector and no weapon formed against her will prosper.
All this sets the stage for the first missionary journey that we read in the Acts of the Apostles. The first missionary journey is recorded in Acts 13:1-14:28. From now on we hear of the labours of Paul and no other. Luke will be his companion and hence he writes what he sees. We have now come to the history of the first of the three great journeys which the Apostle to the Gentiles undertook in his special work. It is fitting that the point of departure should be Antioch, the city in which Gentiles had first been joined to the Church in large numbers. We know that Barnabas and Saul have returned to Antioch from Jerusalem and brought John Mark the writer of the Gospel with them. Now, the first Missionary Journey begins with the trio, Barnabas, Saul and John Mark. Let’s be clear, they are not setting off for a tour but the missionary work.
What can we learn from the Church in Antioch? We are told that the Church “was offering worship and keeping a fast” when the Holy Spirit revealed to them that Saul and Barnabas were to be set apart for the work that God chose them. The first formal mission to the Gentiles was an important event in the church, and they engaged in this assignment with deep solemnity and by humbling themselves before God. This enterprise was a new one. The Gospel had been preached to the Jews, to Cornelius, and to the Gentiles at Antioch. But there had been no solemn, public, and concerted plan for sending it to the Gentiles, or of appointing a mission to the pagan world. It was a new event, and was full of danger and hardships.
Hence the Church is at prayer; praying for its missionary task. If we are to be an evangelizing and a missionary Church then finding comfort within the walls of Church we worship cannot bring about the mission of Christ to ‘make disciples.’ The late Cardinal Valerian Gracias used to remind his priests that they were not ordained to find comfort in the sacristy, sanctuary and compound of the Church. However, the mission field is not just for the clergy; by baptism each one of us is called to prophet, priest and king. So what is my contribution to evangelization?
Let me offer you a few tips or aids that will help you take something meaningful from today’s reading.
1. Get yourself a prayer partner, mission partner and study partner. It could be the same person or three different persons. Remember, Saul had Barnabas…. who do you have? This prayer or mission partner must be someone who you can pray with or remind them to pray each day with you. If you are separated by distance or locked in due to the pandemic, pray on the telephone. This person must also be someone whom you can work with for the kingdom of God. At first, this missionary work may not need you to even leave your city it may be something you can do within your parish or neighbourhood but something that contributes to the growth of the kingdom of God. Find also someone you can study the word of God. Make sure your spiritual life is a three pronged approach of prayer, study and service in mission.
2. Do we appreciate one another in the Church? How much do we value the uniqueness of an individual in the Church life? The Early Church comprised of all sorts yet you can see that the early Church was bound together in love for each other. Call a person you know who has worked for many years in the Church or someone who has just begun and encourage them. Be a Barnabas, “a son of encouragement” to a Paul. Remember that Paul needed a Barnabas to encourage him and perhaps your role is to be a Barnabas to someone who works in the Church.
3. Does our Church fulfil the call of God? This is an important question we need to ask ourselves. The early Church was guided by the Holy Spirit. Are our priest teams, religious groups, parish councils turning to the Holy Spirit for guidance or are we the source of inspiration? Are we fulfilling the mind of God or filling our minds with ideas?
Do leave your comments especially to the reflective questions above in the comments section below. Remember your thoughts matter.
Fr Warner Dsouza