As I mentioned yesterday, yesterday and today we are hearing the first sermon of St. Paul. Again, keep in mind that the author of this book is Luke, not Paul. So while we listen to the sermon, it is important to remember that this is Luke’s proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus.
Put together, the two passage of the Acts of the Apostles clearly states that while St. Paul is known as the Apostle to the Gentiles, he began as Jesus and the other disciples did; namely, preaching to the children of Abraham. Several times in his own writings, St. Paul indicates that he had hoped that the fact that many Gentiles were converted to Christianity would be an incentive to the Jews to do so as well. While many did in fact come to believe, there remained those who simply could not accept that Jesus was the Messiah for whom they had been waiting.
This reminds us that while faith is a gift, we must be willing to cooperate with the gift-giver. The Gospels record that even the disciples of Jesus struggled to accept the message that Jesus preached. In many ways they were being asked to accept a completely different way of thinking about God's promises. Accepting Jesus meant that they had to abandon much of their history and their heritage, even the rituals of their Temple. Those of us who have lived through the many changes that were initiated by Vatican II will remember the great resistance to the changes that many in the Church found very difficult, indeed, still find difficult. If these changes, which were not as dramatic as the Jews were asked to make, were difficult, think of how difficult it must have been for the Jews to accept the notion that this lowly carpenter from Nazareth was the fulfillment of all they had been promised.
Part of the difficulty comes from the way in which we read the Scriptures. For instance, the Scriptures tell us that the Messiah will come with power and authority. St. John the Baptist preached that he would come with a winnowing fan that would separate the wheat from the chaff. He added that the chaff would be burned in a fire. That’s not exactly what happened. First of all, the Messiah came as a helpless and vulnerable baby, born in a stable. Secondly, Jesus did not separate himself from the sinners. Rather he ate and conversed with them, much to the chagrin of the Pharisees. Rather than relegating them to a fire, he courted their friendship and invited them to change their lives.
When it comes to the Second Coming of Jesus, we experience much the same thing. If one listens to Verdi’s Requiem, we hear the Day of the Lord heralded by beautiful trumpet melodies. If he came as a vulnerable baby the first time, I suspect that the Second Coming will also go unnoticed by many people.
Change is never easy. Yet this is exactly what the Gospel is all about – conversion, change. Just as every human being physically changes, perhaps imperceptibly, every day of our lives, our spiritual lives must also change as well. This is precisely why we pore over the Scriptures year after year, each time discovering new insights and our own growing edge. The real test comes when we implement what we hear.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator