Paul and Barnabas continued on from Perga
and reached Antioch in Pisidia.
On the sabbath they entered the synagogue and took their seats.
Many Jews and worshipers who were converts to Judaism
followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them
and urged them to remain faithful to the grace of God.
On the following sabbath almost the whole city gathered
to hear the word of the Lord.
When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy
and with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said.
Both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said,
“It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first,
but since you reject it
and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life,
we now turn to the Gentiles.
For so the Lord has commanded us,
I have made you a light to the Gentiles,
that you may be an instrument of salvation
to the ends of the earth.”
The Gentiles were delighted when they heard this
and glorified the word of the Lord.
All who were destined for eternal life came to believe,
and the word of the Lord continued to spread
through the whole region.
The Jews, however, incited the women of prominence who were worshipers
and the leading men of the city,
stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas,
and expelled them from their territory.
So they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them,
and went to Iconium.
The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
I, John, had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
Then one of the elders said to me,
“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress;
they have washed their robes
and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
“For this reason they stand before God’s throne
and worship him day and night in his temple.
The one who sits on the throne will shelter them.
They will not hunger or thirst anymore,
nor will the sun or any heat strike them.
For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne
will shepherd them
and lead them to springs of life-giving water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
“My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all,
and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.
The Father and I are one.”
One of the reasons Luke wrote Acts is found in today’ first reading. Some early Jewish critics of Christianity were claiming that from the beginning Jesus of Nazareth was planning to destroy Judaism by opening the reform he preached to non-Jews. According to them, the Gentile converts multiplying in Christianity during Luke’s day and age weren’t accidental. The whole process was part of the Capernaum carpenter’s masterplan from day one.
Luke responds, “No way!” The Gentiles who were accepting the risen Jesus’ faith were a total surprise. If non-Jews were becoming other Christs it was only because many of those who were originally invited to experience Jesus’ dying and rising personally rejected the invitation.
Luke shares his read on this unexpected situation in today’s first reading. Paul and Barnabas, as good Jews, initially bring the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection to their fellow Jews in the Antioch synagogue. Only after those worshippers contradict what the pair proclaim with “violent abuse,” do the two state the evangelist’s thesis: “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first, but since you reject it and condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.”
No secret plan existed to evangelize Gentiles. Paul and his co-evangelizers were forced to develop one out of necessity when the unexpected happened. Though Jewish Christians were still obligated to keep the 613 Mosaic laws along with imitating the risen Jesus, Gentile Christians simply concentrated on the latter.
The greatest 20th century scholar of the Christian Scriptures – Rudolph Bultmann - once observed, “Eventually the preacher became the preached.” During his earthy ministry, Jesus of Nazareth preached a reform of Judaism. After his death and resurrection, he/she became the reform he had once preached. Nowhere is this change clearer than in today’s famous gospel pericope about Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
Most probably written in the mid-90s, this Johannine passage speaks about Jesus shepherding his people. It isn’t the first time the gospel Jesus lists the characteristics of a good shepherd. He does so a generation or two before in both Matthew and Luke. But in those prior passages, he never identifies with the shepherd. He simply speaks about God – as a shepherd – wasting lots of time and effort going after “lost” sheep. Only at the end of the first Christian century does someone eventually identify the risen Jesus as such a shepherd. The preacher has finally become the preached.
Of course, once people no longer have the “Jewishness” of their faith to fall back on, they have no choice but to concentrate completely on the Christ, as does the author of Revelation. His theology closely parallels John: “The Lamb . . . will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water . . .” If you’re not following the risen Jesus, you’ll end up dying of thirst.
The basic problem for non-Jewish Christians is that those who break concentration on the risen Jesus among them are going to have terrific difficulties accomplishing the reform he preached. I presume that was the main reason celebrations of the Eucharist were essential for the earliest Christians. They simply couldn’t be who they were expected to be without creating frequent occasions to give themselves to one another.
It’s more than a shame that the biblical Breaking of Bread eventually developed into just a series of prayers and rituals by which a person gains sufficient graces to one day get into heaven. None of our Christian sacred authors could have foreseen that development.
Church historians tell us reform of the church must begin with reform of the Eucharist. Considering the recent translation foisted on us by Rome, we’ve got a long way to go.