Wednesday in the Third Week of Easter
Acts 8:1ff. After Stephen’s burial, Saul starts persecuting the church.
John 6:35ff. “I am the bread of life…. I will raise them up on the last day.”
Study in Contrasts: Jerusalem and Samaria
Jerusalem, which had been a special object of Jesus’ ministry, now violently rejects his disciples, while the countryside, particularly Samaria, listens carefully to the word, is willing to accept miracles, and converts to the Lord. Sophisticated Jerusalem with its religious schools and centuries-old traditions, never gives Jesus or his disciples a fair chance to explain themselves; while Samaria, neglected, oppressed, fearful of mass movements yet open and spontaneous toward affection and sincerity, listens to the disciples, experiences miracles of body and mind, and responds with joy and ecstatic wonder.
The comparison of Jerusalem with Samaria alerts us to the advantages and disadvantages of strong, intellectual preparation for the gospel. No doubt, Jerusalem became the source of strength and continuity for the religion of Moses. Humanly speaking, the religion of Israel would have disappeared like the religion of the Philistines or Moabites, if Jerusalem had collapsed and disappeared. At Jerusalem the sacred tradition was preserved, and at crucial times adapted and revised into new forms. Jerusalem was also the center for the great rabbinical schools and for the central governing body of Judaism. Yet, it was Jerusalem which violently rejected Jesus and his first disciples.
Samaria, the step-child of Mosaic religion, partly correct and partly wrong in religious beliefs and practices, hostile toward outsiders yet warm and open once a person manifested sincerity and personal warmth, accepted the faith. Not all the Samaritans, but a good number of them converted. It is possible that part of their enthusiasm for the faith, or at least their protection of Jesus’ disciples, stemmed from the Samaritan hostility toward Jerusalem. If Jerusalem rejected the disciples, then the Samaritans would naturally be inclined to accept them!
There was a direct simplicity about the Samaritans. As a result, hidden resources could quickly come to the surface. New possibilities would be acted upon. They were not afraid of sophisticated criticism leveled at the Samaritan naivete. All of us possess hidden resources and untapped potential. Here is where we are liable to be fearful. Here is where we can easily make mistakes. Here is also where genius is born, wonderful new insights leap forth, extraordinary turns of fortune take place. We know people who are sleepers. We suspected their talents yet were never sure. They seemed hesitant; they remained behind the others; they were silent. Then suddenly, the flower blooms and all the potential goodness of the person comes to the surface.
Jesus may look upon us as people too sophisticated for our own good. Because we know religion so well, maybe because we are leaders, ministers, priests and bishops, we can make religion a substitute for religious fervor. We are the Jerusalem of the Acts of the Apostles: possessing the great heritage and yet denying its fulfillment.
Yet, the disciples of Jesus go out to the countryside, to Samaria. Jesus’ word reaches our hidden talents. All of a sudden, the “devil” which has kept us silent, fearful, unable to speak, or willing to speak only in strange, devious ways, is driven out of us. We are cured! “The rejoicing in that town rose to fever pitch.”
Jesus also said: all that the Father gives me shall come to me. I shall lose nothing of what he has given me. I shall raise it up on the last day. We can anticipate the day of resurrection. We can have everlasting life now, if we look to the Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. We allow our hopes and talents to be touched by Jesus’ warmth. We are willing to take the full consequences of our new way of life, with its enthusiasm and achievement.
First Reading: Acts 8:1-8
And Saul approved of their killing him. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.
Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did, for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed; and many others who were paralyzed or lame were cured. So there was great joy in that city.
Gospel: John 6:35-40
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”