30th May. Friday in Week 6 of Easter
First Reading: Acts 18:9-18
(Paul’s trial by Gallio the proconsul breaks down for lack of evidence.)
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
(Like a woman who has given birth, your pain will be turned into joy.)
Jesus said, “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.”
The providence that guides our lives
Today’s Gospel indicates that we will have questions to ponder right up until the second coming of Jesus. “[Only] on that day you will have no questions to ask me.” We meet the statement in one of the last of the New Testament writings, the gospel of John. Because this author could call upon the entire Hebrew Scriptures and also upon the rest of the New Testament, he should have all the answers, one feels. But the church must wait until the second coming of Jesus, before all her questioning would stop.
In today’s incident in Acts, we see Paul dragged before the Roman proconsul, and when the case is suddenly dismissed, the Jewish people turn upon a leading man of the synagogue, Sosthenes, and beat him up. The 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 despise him as a renegade, shows up clearly in his consecration of himself with the Nazirite vow. He would not cut his hair again until the vow is completed, but would follow strict dietary laws and keep himself ceremonially pure. Intending to go as a pilgrim to Jerusalem, Paul 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 mind. 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.
In the Gospel 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, 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, we can sense the providence of God in our lives. He comes to us in the midst of our darkness, and the force of his presence seems like his vision to Paul: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you.” In our weakness we sense the strength of God deeply within us. Jesus’ presence does not seem to alter the external form of our lives. 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 trust him with our lives.