by Fr. Tommy Lane
There is a saying, “no pain, no gain.” When we undergo a trial we can become either bitter or better. Hopefully we become better. In the reading from Acts today (Acts 11:19-26) we see that the Church also grew through trials. In fact when reading Acts we are left wondering would the Church flourish if there were no trials. At the end of the Gospel of Luke (24:47) just before his ascension Jesus said to his apostles and disciples that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached to all nations beginning from Jerusalem, i.e. the Gentiles were to be evangelized. In Acts 1:8 before his ascension Jesus said to his apostles and disciples that they would be his witnesses not only in Jerusalem, but in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, i.e. the Gentiles were to be evangelized. Yet what do we see happening in Jerusalem after Pentecost? The apostles preached only to Jews. It was very clear that Jesus wanted the Gentiles evangelized yet the apostles did nothing about it. But God’s word will bear fruit. As we read in Isa 55:10-11,
For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down and do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.
Even if it takes persecution of the Church for that word to be fulfilled then it must be so.
So after Stephen’s death a bitter persecution of the Church began in Jerusalem which drove the Greek-speaking Jewish Christians out of the city (Acts 8:1). Some of them preached to Gentiles in Antioch (Acts 11:19). Notice that the reading from today says the hand of the Lord was with them (Acts 11:21). The Church in Jerusalem heard what was happening in Antioch and sent Barnabas to make sure everything is OK (Acts 11:22). This ensured that the link with the apostles was maintained. But the apostles were not planning the mission, the Holy Spirit was planning and the apostles were catching up with what the Lord was doing. This happens a number of times in Acts. The apostles in Jerusalem catch up with what the Lord is doing in the Church. We would expect the apostles to lead the evangelization since the Lord had requested it but instead they are reacting and responding to it, trying to catch up. And it was persecution of the Church in Jerusalem that brought about the evangelization of the Gentiles which Jesus had requested. It makes us wonder, how much longer we would have had to wait for the evangelization of the Gentiles to begin if there were no persecution in Jerusalem. Sometimes it takes suffering before we as individuals or a Church grow and are shaped into what the Lord wants us to be. The prophet Jeremiah (Jer 18) saw that if the vessel the potter was making did not turn out right the potter would remold it. The Lord, like the potter, will remold us as individuals or a Church, if necessary through suffering, until we fulfill the Lord’s beautiful plan for us.
Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013
More homilies for Tuesday Week Four of Easter