03 Jun Friday in the Sixth Week of Easter
Acts 18:9ff. Paul’s trial in front of Gallio the Roman proconsul breaks down for lack of any legal case against him.
John 16:20ff. Like a woman who has given birth, your pain will be turned into joy.
Preserved by Providence
Because the Bible is the word of God, we often think to ourselves that it will answer all our questions. Yet, today’s Gospel indicates that we will have questions on our mind until the second coming of Jesus. “[Only] on that day you will have no questions to ask me.” We might expect such a statement from the early parts of the New Testament, say from the gospel of Mark, or still earlier in the Epistle to the Thessalonians. It would not be surprising if the sacred writer of these first New Testament works would reassure us that sooner or later all our questions will be answered, once the gospels take shape and the traditions of the Church are assembled. Yet, we meet the statement in one of the last of the New Testament writings, the gospel of John. Because this gospel could call upon the entire Hebrew Scriptures and also upon the New Testament Scriptures, its author should have had all the answers. Certainly, the Church should not have had to wait until the second coming of Jesus, an event which has still not taken place, before all her questioning would stop.
Further indecisiveness stirs beneath the surface of today’s biblical readings, and this unsteadiness becomes all the more surprising in view of the opening incident in Acts. Jesus appeared to Paul, strengthened him and assured Paul: “I am with you.” Yet, after this initial promise, serious questions come to mind. Paul is dragged before the Roman proconsul. Then the case is suddenly dismissed. The Jewish people turn upon a leading man of the synagogue, Sosthenes, and beat him up. The account in Acts gives no reason for this violence; instead, it turns quickly to say that Paul remained “quite a while” at Corinth, most probably a year and a half. Paul’s loyalty to the Mosaic traditions, despite the fact that his fellow Jews attempted to put him on trial before the Roman proconsul, shows up clearly in Paul’s consecration of himself with the Nazirite vow (Num 6:1-21). He shaved his head and would not cut his hair again until the vow is completed. He would follow strict dietary laws and keep himself “ceremonially pur.” In a very real sense, Paul again becomes thoroughly a Jew and immerses himself in some of the strictest of Jewish customs. He then took leave from Cenchreae, the seaport of Corinth, facing the east, and began the journey toward Jerusalem.
All kinds of questions come to our mind. Why was Sosthenes beaten up publicly? Why would Paul continue living as a fervent Jew, obedient to its strictest rules, when he was proclaiming the freedom of Jesus’ disciples from these laws and regulations.
Evidently, Jesus’ will for Paul was taking a long time to be clarified and understood in the mind of the apostle. We are reminded of the example of Jesus about a pregnant woman. She will weep and mourn that her time has come. She suffers greatly, all the while unsure about the child, about its sex, facial features, health, about its future which will affect the parents and the entire family. Paul, and in fact we ourselves are all like that pregnant woman, for we possess hopes beyond our comprehension. We are being called to pledge ourselves to other people and to other work, and often enough the future is not clear. At times there are movements of new life which cause us pain and which raise questions.
We have the assurance of Jesus that “your grief will be turned into joy.” Although Jesus in one sense can prove this statement from the mystery of the resurrection in his own life, nonetheless, Jesus’ glory seems so far remote from us, particularly from us when we are caught in sorrow and darkness, that his resurrection no longer seems to prove anything. And when more questions arise, Jesus’ resurrection does not offer us any clear answers, only the strength to live with our questions still longer!
Yet, somehow or other, mysteriously enough but nonetheless beyond all doubt, we sense the presence of Jesus in our lives. Jesus comes to us “one night” in the midst of our darkness, and the force of his presence seems like a vision. He says to us as to Paul: “Do not be afraid. Go on speaking and do not be silenced, for I am with you.” The strongest reassurance comes when we are silent, prayerful, immersed in God’s holy presence. In such weakness we sense the strength of God deeply within us.
Jesus’ presence does not seem to alter the external form of our lives. Paul continued to live as a very devout Jew, even to the point of taking the Nazirite vow and committing himself to dietary laws stricter than those for the ordinary Jewish person. Even when dragged by some of the Jewish people before the Roman proconsul and when another of his friends, Sosthenes, was publicly beaten up, still Paul remained a faithful Jew. We too are not asked to cut all our ties and disassociate ourselves from family and friends. In fact, the presence of Jesus ought to strengthen those bonds and make our loyalty all the more dependable.
Yet, all the while, our hopes continue to grow within us, as a child develops within its mother’s womb. Through prayer and patience, through peace and loyalty, we perceive these wonders and possibilities. We live staunchly within the present moment and yet we realize our call toward Jesus that will transform our lives. Our questions now deepen our spirit of faith in Jesus, our willingness to wait and so to renew our strength.
First Reading: Acts 18:9-18
One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.” He stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal. They said, “This man is persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to the law.” Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of crime or serious villainy, I would be justified in accepting the complaint of you Jews; but since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves; I do not wish to be a judge of these matters.” And he dismissed them from the tribunal. Then all of them seized Sosthenes, the official of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of these things.
After staying there for a considerable time, Paul said farewell to the believers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had his hair cut, for he was under a vow.
Gospel: John 16:20-23
Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. On that day you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.