24May 24th May. Saturday in Week 5 of Easter

First Reading: Acts 16:1-10

(Timothy, born of a mixed marriage, joins Paul in the missionary work.)

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

(Since ‘Servants are not greater than their master,’ the Christian disciple must not expect an easy time.)

“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

Moving on “through thick and thin”

Conflict and struggle often featured in St. Paul’s apostolate; and perhaps often do 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 theological interpretation, “prevented by the Holy Spirit,” almost seems like a quieting blanket spread over a case involving intrigue, jealousy, false ambition, such as we know to have happened in other places where the full documents are available, as for instance at Corinth. The Gospel spreads within a human setting, despite faulty human judgment and selfish motives, but Holy Scripture is intent to recognize a mystery of salvation being achieved “by the Holy Spirit” through human instruments.

We read how Paul had Timothy circumcised “because of the Jews of that region.” Yet, at the same time Paul was transmitting for observance the decision the apostles and elders had made in Jerusalem. Once it was settled that circumcision was not necessary for salvation, Paul felt free to circumcise out of respect for others! This procedure included some rather sophisticated reasoning, hard bargaining with the Jerusalem church, loyalty to principle and yet compromise on non-essentials. Now that circumcision was no longer a prerequisite for salvation, Paul could have his his assistant Timothy circumcised, so as not to scandalise the Jews of that region!

“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.