Even if these forget, I will not, I could not and I cannot forget! – Thursday, 4th week in Easter – Acts 13:13 -25

Barnabas and Saul set out on a missionary journey to Cyprus. That journey would take them from the island of Cyprus to the mainland of Turkey. Acts records this place as Pergia in Pamphylia. It was a coastal harbour city which docked ships from Paphos. From here they will travel to Antioch of Pisidia, a 220-kilometer journey north in the region of Galatia.

But before this journey begins there is a shift in Church leadership and perhaps the first rumblings of the chords of discontent. Up to now, scripture accorded an honorific precedence to Barnabas. He is mentioned first and then Saul is mentioned. Saul continues to be addressed by his Hebrew name; now he is called by his Roman name, Paul, and he is mentioned before Barnabas.

We do not know precisely why this reversal of leadership took place. Scripture records it without much fanfare, installation or anointing. This massive change in leadership is mentioned by a very insignificant name change. Popular belief holds that Saul’s name was changed when he encountered Christ on the road to Damascus. Rather, it is not at his conversion but at the change of leadership that his name is recorded as Paul. This is not uncommon; the Popes continue to take on a new name when they begin their pontificate and God changed the names of the patriarchs to indicate their new calling.  

But this new role came with difficult choices. The author of the Gospel according to Mark, John Mark himself, decided to leave the trio and go back to Jerusalem. Remember, he is a cousin of Barnabas. Did this change of leadership, from his cousin to what he may have considered a usurper, create this rift? We know that a rift did take place. Acts 15:36-41 testifies to the unpleasant parting between John Mark and Paul and the reluctance of Paul to reintroduce Mark to the mission. Was this the first ‘schism’ of sorts in the Church? Whatever the reason, we know that the mission of the Church was not thwarted. The Church does not belong to man!

Paul and Barnabas now head to Antioch of Pisidia. They enter the synagogue on the Sabbath. This tells us that the Jewish character of the Early Church did not change. It was perhaps after the council of Jamnia in the year 70 AD when a curse was placed on the Christians and Gentiles, that the Church developed a more ‘Christian’ character of its own. For now, the early church had a strong Jewish bent.

The synagogue service has in many ways, influenced the structure of the Eucharist we celebrate today. The ‘Word of God’ had a reading from the Torah and then a reading from the Prophets followed by a commentary or a homily which did not have to be given by a priest. Jesus was given this same honour when he came to his hometown and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. In this case, we are not told what the texts of scripture were but we have a very lengthy recorded homily, given by Paul.

In this homily which spans the text of today and tomorrow’s liturgy at mass, Paul takes us through the highlights of salvation history. He is addressing Jews and Gentiles. We know this because of his address; “You Israelites AND others who fear God.”

While I recommend a reading of this homily, I want to highlight one line in particular for our reflection. In narrating the exodus narrative, Paul refers to the disobedience of the Israelites. “For about forty years,” he says, “He (God) put up with them (Israelites) in the wilderness.’

I want to make this our reflection. God put up with the Israelites but God DID NOT give up on them. This line which clearly rings of God’s frustration with his people for 40 years also holds the compassion of a parent to a wayward child. Can a mother forget her baby or a woman a child within her womb? Even if these forget, I will not, I could not and I cannot forget you! Pray for parents who struggle with wayward children.

While this line of scripture consoles us in this generation it must also confront us. Are we pushing God’s buttons a little too much? Is he ‘putting up’ with us as he did with the Israelites? Is this covenant only being held by Him and that too dangling precociously by a silken thread?

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