Wednesday in the Fourth Week of Easter
Acts 12:24ff. The growing church is inspired to send out missionaries. Barnabas and Saul on the first mission journey.
John 12:44ff. Whoever believes in Jesus is trusting in the One who sent him.
The Roots of Mission
In today’s Scripture we catch a glimpse of the intimate community of life between Jesus and his heavenly Father, between the members of the church in Antioch among themselves and with God. Jesus’ entire existence is formed by his total desire to please the Father, this receptivity to the Father’s will and wisdom, this total community of life with the Father.
In the church at Antioch, the community gathers for liturgy while fasting from food and drink. Fasting would leave the deep impression that their strength comes from God, not from themselves nor from earthly substance. Fasting also induces a bond of compassion, a willingness to suffer together, a sense of being one with all the world’s poor and oppressed. As such, they are thoroughly open to God for guidance and for strength.
At this time of the liturgy, the Holy Spirit inspires a prophecy: “Set apart Barnabas and Saul.” The language reminds us of the great prophets, like Jeremiah, called and set apart from his mother’s womb, or the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, called from birth to be a light to the nations (Jer 1:5; Is 49:6).
Through Barnabas and Paul a new and wider community is to be established. The bond of Jesus’ disciples is to spread across the Roman empire, during this first missionary journey to the island of Cyprus. The Holy Spirit did not give precise, detailed instructions, only a call to proceed forward on the journey. At first they proclaim the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. Yet, all the while God’s main purpose was to attract more and more gentiles so that Christianity can bring the message of Moses, the prophets and Jesus to all the world.
Just as Jesus and the Father formed one intimate life, just as the disciples at Antioch were united among themselves and with the Holy Spirit, likewise the church at Antioch was to reach outward toward the world as one family in Christ.
At the heart of this growing circle and ever increasing family there abides the word of life from the heavenly Father. It is this outreach toward others in love that keeps us from over-controlling the word of God. As we share this word with others, it always seems to become something new, fresh, demanding, upsetting, the result whenever new life is added to any family. Yet, this life is but a continuity of life within the parents, which reaches back to the word which the Father speaks and Jesus hears.
If we remain too close-knit, then we can control and thoroughly understand, or we think that we do. The outreach to the gentile world brought a whole new dimension to the ancient Bible. Almost every sentence had to be rethought within a new context. And when the church at Antioch, as earlier when the church at Jerusalem thought to have everything in good enough order, it was someone who reached outwards toward the nations that broke the order and yet enabled the profound mystery of God to remain just that, a mystery.
This mystery of God’s hidden message, spoken wondrously in Jesus and heard through the prophets within our midst, is the most demanding voice that we will ever hear. It comes from the Father, communicated through Jesus, and continuously kept alive in the Church by the Holy Spirit; it reaches into the depth of ourselves as we have been created and endowed with life and with a future beyond our hopes. If our plans and human devices put such firm hands upon this mystery, that the wonder is lost and everything is humanly understandable, then we have lost our way and muffled the voice of the Holy Spirit. This human control is usually broken most forcefully by charity that reaches outward and sends us on a missionary journey of kindness to others.
First Reading: Acts 12:24-13:5
But the word of God continued to advance and gain adherents. Then after completing their mission Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem and brought with them John, whose other name was Mark.
Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John also to assist them.
Gospel: John 12:44-50
Then Jesus cried aloud: “Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come as ligh into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me.”