4 May, 2013. Saturday in the Fifth Week of Easter
Acts 16:1ff. Young Timothy, the son of a mixed marriage, joins Paul in apostolic missionary work.
Jn 15:18ff. Since servants are not greater than their master, the Christian disciple must not expect an easy time.
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.
Tackling what needs to be done
Persecuted in one town, the disciples moved on to another; and so the gospel continued spreading across the Roman Empire. When local conditions threw roadblocks in Paul’s way, Luke explains that it was the Holy Spirit prevented them from preaching the message.” This phrase, “prevented by the Holy Spirit,” seems almost like a smoothing over of a case involving intrigue, jealousy and rivalry, such as happened in other places where a fuller account is available, as for instance at Corinth. While the apostolate proceeds within an all-too-human setting, sometimes including harsh judgment and selfish motives, still there is always a mystery of salvation being achieved “by the Holy Spirit” through whatever human instruments are available.
The Holy Spirit also allows for prudent compromise. For instance, surprisingly, Paul had Timothy circumcised because of the Jews of that region, although he was at that time transmitting the decisions made in Jerusalem by the apostles and elders, saying that circumcision before baptism was not to be imposed on Gentile converts. While they had settled the issue that circumcision was not necessary, Paul felt free to circumcise in this particular situation! This clearly included some rather sophisticated reasoning, some compromise on non-essentials. He decided to have Timothy circumcised, if that young man was to be his assistant, because young Timothy’s mother was Jewish, and in they eyes of the Jews of that region the lad should have been circumcised long ago!
Paul could use diplomatic finesse and compromise; but he would also act with stern dedication to principle. Through it all, he was conscious of being led by the Holy Spirit in his effort to spread the message of Christ. At times, hardships had to be faced directly, leading him eventually to the point of martyrdom in Rome. Paul clearly mirrored the words of Jesus, as heard 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.”
“Come over to Macedonia” is a simple phrase, slipped quietly into the inspired text. Yet it led to a monumental step, for Christianity now passes into Europe. The heartland of the Jesus-religion will no longer be located at Jerusalem or the middle east but far to the north and west – and indeed, far to the south and east as well. Another major step in the Church’s history was taken, induced by a set of human circumstances. Paul handled the situations he faced with a mixture of stern principle and diplomatic compromise; all the while led by the Holy Spirit. It is a template for Church leaders to follow in our age too.