"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

5th SUNDAY OF EASTER -C- May19, 2019

Acts 14: 21-27; Psalm 145; Revelation 21: 1-5; John 13: 31-33, 34-35

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

Confession time: as I have mentioned before, when we preachers start our preparation we tend to ask, "What’s the gospel?" Gospel narratives catch the imagination as they focus on Jesus, the world in which he preached and his stunning works. The gospel passage is also the last of the readings – the preaching follows immediately – and our hearers are most likely to remember the gospel they just heard. Nevertheless, in my preparation this week, I’m going to focus on our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

A few words about Acts. It was written by Luke and is considered his "second volume." Some would name both under one title, "Luke-Acts." A clue to this relationship is in the opening lines of the two documents. Luke’s gospel begins addressing "most excellent Theophilus"; promising after "investigating everything," to "write an orderly account for you." Acts opens with a clear link to the gospel: "In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote all that Jesus did and taught…." The gospel ended with Jesus’ sending his disciples to preach (24:46-47). That’s where Acts picks up.

About a third of Acts features speeches and preachings from key figures in the early church. The initial setting for the preachings takes place in Jerusalem (1:1-8:3) and then moves to Judea and Samaria (8: 4-9:43). Isaiah had promised that Israel would be a "light to the nations" and so next, the preachers take up their mission to the Gentiles (10:1-15 – 15:35). In the last part, Paul’s preaching exemplifies God’s call for the mission to reach the "ends of the earth" (15:36–26:31).

Paul and Barnabas returned to preach at Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch – the very places they had suffered persecutions. In Lystra Paul was stoned and left for dead by his opponents. In today’s reading the apostles return to the Christian communities they established to teach and encourage the communities and to strengthen their faith. As we follow the preaching missions of the apostles we learn, while some accepted their message, others rejected and persecuted them.

In their perseverance and suffering, because of their preaching, the early evangelists were not just drawing on their own energies and grit. What these preachers reveal is that Jesus had kept his word and had given them the gift of the Holy Spirit. It was that Spirit that filled their spirits with a burning desire to preach and witness to their resurrected Lord. When they returned to their home communities they would not boast of their accomplishments, but of the Holy Spirit working through them in unique ways. Thus, today’s reading ends with Paul and Barnabas at their home base in Antioch, where they "… called in the church together and reported what God had done with them and how God had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles."

Something like that happens in parishes when members volunteer, or are asked, to teach religion to teens; be an RCIA team member; start a food pantry; take communion to the sick, etc. Often they profess their limited knowledge and experience, yet they say "Yes" to the invitation. They studiously prepare for their mission and take guidance from the "elders." They discover people are moved by their ministry and more – the ministers’ own faith takes on new life as, like Paul and Barnabas, they undertake the mission of preaching the gospel. How do those changes come about? How else, but through the work of the Holy Spirit – anointing and working through their efforts.

So, where do our travels take us, for we too have been assigned to proclaim the Good News to the world? Probably we won’t have to go on a whirlwind evangelizing mission like our two featured apostles. But still, our baptism has anointed us to be prophets in the places we find ourselves. There is no getting around that responsibility!

Name your own "mission field": around the breakfast table (that can be real mission territory for some!); at work; among friends at social gatherings; on line at the supermarket? I’m not suggesting we stand on a soapbox and start preaching; though being a little less shy about our faith wouldn’t hurt. But our habitual actions, values, judgments, style of life, etc. should stir up curiosity for those around us. Who knows, they might be curious enough to ask the big questions: "What makes you so different?" "With all the problems you have, how do you get your strength to go on?" "How can you be remain so hopeful?" Then the opportunity will arise for us to do what Paul and Barnabas were doing – "proclaim the Good News."

We may feel we are not theologically trained enough, but we should speak from the knowledge we do have – our heart and the experience of our faith. (A little study wouldn’t hurt either!) Like Paul and Barnabas, we won’t be unaccompanied on our journey, because the Spirit will be our "tour guide." Which is what the Acts of the Apostles is really about: the Holy Spirit working in ordinary people to help them proclaim the Good News and make, as Acts tells us, "a considerable number of disciples." Give it a try!

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/051919.cfm