Saturday in the Fifth Week of Easter
Acts 16:1ff. Young Timothy, born of a mixed marriage, joins Paul in apostolic missionary work.
John 15:18ff. Since servants are not greater than their master, the Christian disciple must not expect an easy time.
Tackling the Task
Adversity continues to exert its important role in the apostolate. Persecuted in one place, the disciples moved on to another town; and so the gospel moved onward and continued to spread across the Roman Empire. When local conditions threw roadblocks in Paul’s way and kept him from preaching in the name of Jesus, St Luke explains that “They were prevented by the Holy Spirit from preaching the message.” This theological phrase, “prevented by the Holy Spirit,” almost seems like a smothering blanket spread over a case involving intrigue, jealousy and false ambition, such as we know to have happened in other places where a fuller account is available, as for instance at Corinth (Acts 18; 1-2 Cor). While the apostolate proceeds within the full human setting, with its false judgment and selfish motivation, nonetheless, the Scriptures are always intent to recognize a mystery of salvation being achieved “by the Holy Spirit” through human instruments.
In the Scriptures the action of the Holy Spirit almost always blends with human plans and prudent compromise. For instance, we read in the Acts today that Paul had Timothy circumcised because of the Jews of that region. At that very time Paul was transmitting the decisions made in Jerusalem by the apostles and elders, that the rule requiring circumcision before baptism was not to be imposed on Gentile converts. Paul had settled the issue that circumcision was not necessary, but felt free to circumcise in this particular situation! Paul’s planning clearly included some rather sophisticated reasoning, some hard bargaining with the Jerusalem church, some staunch loyalty to principle, some provision for compromise on non-essentials. Now that circumcision was no longer an absolute prerequisite for salvation, Paul decided to have Timothy circumcised, if that young man was to be his assistant, because young Timothy’s mother was Jewish, and “because of the Jews of that region”!
Paul wanted to preserve a clear line of continuity with the Jewish ancestry of the Christian faith. He would act, even with diplomatic finesse and compromise; he would also act with stern dedication to principle. Through it all, Paul was conscious of being led by the Holy Spirit. At other times this continuity would have to be maintained in the midst of hostility and persecutions. Once again, this problem was handled variously. At times, hardships had to be faced directly, even to the point of martyrdom. Paul eventually in heroic witness to his obedience to the Spirit. He mirrored the words of Jesus, as we hear them in today’s gospel: “If you find that the world hates you, know that it has hated me before you … You do not belong to the world. But I chose you out of the world…. They will treat you as they treated me.
To be chosen for apostleship can reach the point of martyrdom. But at other times, to be chosen out of the world means “avoiding Bithynia”, in preaching the gospel. We do not know the exact problems that faced him there, but in any case Paul did not crash into them but went around them. And both decisions, to be prudent and to move on, are attributed to the Holy Spirit. In some way, Paul is being chosen “out of the world”, of Asia and Bithynia, and in still another way Paul remained very much in the world, as the Spirit beckoned him to Macedonia.
” Come over to Macedonia” is a simple phrase, slipped almost unnoticed into the inspired text. Yet it is one of those monumental, dramatic steps, for Christianity now passes into Europe. The heart of the Jesus religion will no longer be located at Jerusalem or the middle east but somewhere else. The decision has not yet been made, of course, but the first step in its formulation has been taken. That step was induced by a set of human circumstances, some petty and insignificant yet all the while annoying, others much more theological and serious. Paul handled the situation with a combined reaction of stern principle and diplomatic compromise; all the while convinced of being led by the Holy Spirit.
First Reading: Acts 16:1-10
Paul went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went from town to town, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.
They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
Gospel: John 15:18-21
“If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world – therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.