Opening the Word: Instrument of salvation

Fourth Sunday of Easter Acts 13:14,43-52 Ps 100:1-2,3,5 Rv 7:9,14b-17 Jn 10:27-30

“For I am not ashamed of the Gospel,” the apostle Paul wrote near the beginning of his letter to the Roman Christians. “It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: for Jew first, and then Greek” (Rom 1:16). Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes both St. Paul’s courage and his approach to proclaiming the word of God.  

Acts 13 marks a notable shift in Luke’s focus away from the work of Peter, which had taken place mostly in and around Jerusalem, to the work of Paul, who was eager to expand the Church’s missionary work into Asia Minor, Greece and beyond. Peter had already taken the Gospel to Gentiles, having been called by God to meet and baptize the centurion Cornelius and his family (see Acts 10). He had reported this wonderful news to the Christians in Jerusalem and later was arrested by Herod, only to be freed by an angel (Acts 11-12). Peter and Paul, along with other apostles and many disciples, would eventually gather at the council of Jerusalem (Act 15).  

In between — as described in Acts 13 and 14 — Paul embarked upon his first missionary journey. One of the first stops made by Paul and Barnabas was Antioch in Pisidia, a prominent city in the region of Galatia in southern Asia Minor. It was a key Roman civil center with a sizeable Jewish population. Paul and Barnabas entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and waited for their opportunity to speak. “Had they not waited,” St. John Chr ysostom observed about this evangelistic strategy, “there would have been no discourse. Here for the first time we have Paul preaching.” The sermon was lengthy, and emphasized the holy life, unjust death and the miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ.  

As would often be the case, Paul’s message was initially welcomed eagerly, before opposition finally formed and responded, often with deep anger. And, sure enough, religious leaders of the Jewish community did respond with jealousy and violence. Paul, who had been raised a deeply devout Jew, explained that he had an obligation to speak the word of God to his fellow Jews first, but that their rejection of the Gospel would force him to “turn to the Gentiles.” This wrenching fact would cause the Apostle to the Gentiles much anguish and provide inspiration for profound theological reflection (see Rom 9-11).  

Luke recounts that the Gentiles delighted in Paul’s remarks. Many believed, and the word of the Lord spread “through the whole region.” This, however, led to further confrontation, and the two men were forced to follow the exhortation given by Jesus: “And as for those who do not welcome you, when you leave that town, shake off the dust from your feet in testimony against them” (Lk 9:5).  

Far from discouraging Paul and Barnabas, the persecution brought them joy, a gift of the Holy Spirit. “For the suffering of the teacher,” remarked St. John Chr ysostom, “does not check his boldness but makes the disciple more courageous.”  

Paul, always bold, suffered intensely and courageously for the sake of the word of God. He had experienced the power of the living and active word of God and knew it was “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb 4:12).  

There are some who reject God’s call; there are many who let jealousy blind them to the grace of God. But the work of the disciple, regardless of circumstances, is to be an instrument of salvation.  

--Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.