12th May. Saturday of the 5th Week of Easter
Acts 16:1ff. Young Timothy, born of a mixed marriage, joins the 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 an important role in Paul’s apostolate – and perhaps in ours too. Persecuted in one place, the disciples fled to another place; so the gospel moved onward and continued to spread across the Roman Empire. Whenever local conditions threw road blocks in Paul’s way and kept him from preaching in the name of Jesus, the Scripture explains the situation thus: “They had been prevented by the Holy Spirit from preaching the message.” This highly theological phrase, “prevented by the Holy Spirit,” almost seems like a quieting and smothering blanket, spread over a snarling case involving intrigue, jealousy, fear, false ambition, such as we know to have happened in other places when the full documents are available, as for instance at Corinth (Acts 18; 1-2 Cor). While the Gospel spreads within the full human setting, despite faulty human judgment and selfish motivation, the Scriptures are always intent to recognize a mystery of salvation being achieved “by the Holy Spirit” through human instruments.
The Holy Spirit works through human plans and prudent compromise. For instance, we read in Acts that Paul had Timothy circumcised “because of the Jews of that region.” Yet, at the same time Paul was transmitting for observance the decisions which the apostles and elders had made in Jerusalem. Among these was the clear stipulation that difficult burdens, like the rule requiring circumcision, was not to be imposed, as we have already discussed. Once Paul had settled the issue that circumcision was not necessary for salvation, then he felt free to circumcise out of respect for others! Paul’s procedure 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 could decide to have Timothy circumcised, if that young man was to be his assistant, so as not to scandalise 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 died such a death, a heroic witness of his devotion and obedience to the Spirit. Paul could then have remembered 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 harry you as they harried me.”
“Beckoned to Macedonia” is a simple phrase, slipped almost unnoticed into the inspired text of Acts. Yet, here is one of those monumental, most dramatic steps. Christianity passes into Europe. The heart of biblical religion will no longer be located at Jerusalem 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, he was convinced that he was 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.