Sunday Scripture Readings

FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER, MAY 2 Acts 13:14, 43-52; Psalm 100; Revelation 7:9, 14-17; John 10:27-30 OUR GOOD NEWS: Joy, trust, confidence, gratitude in God’s caring love, revealed through his Son and proclaimed to the whole world. The early Church experienced both triumph and tragedy in its enthusiasm to bring the world to Christ. Luke’s Acts of the Apostles provide an historical overview of the first years. Instead of concentrating on the past, handing on such traditions as were available, Luke chose to address the present and future. What is the Church called to become? Luke fleshed out the results of his research, telling a story that focused the earliest missionary endeavors on two persons, Peter, then Paul. Today’s first reading conveys the Lucan understanding of how Paul typically proceeded in founding local churches throughout the Roman Empire. The story of this model missionary is told in generalized and summary form, Luke’s way of indicating how the Church did — and should — proclaim the Good News. Christianity first established itself in two centers, Jerusalem and Antioch in Syria. The latter became a base for missionary activity throughout the Roman Empire. Like Paul in today’s selection, the earliest apostles (those "sent" to proclaim the Good News) originally concerned themselves with diaspora Judaism — permanent communities of Jews located in the major population centers, where religious life centered on a local synagogue. Edified by their Jewish neighbors, many pagans had become "God-fearers." These semi-converts could not withdraw completely from their Gentile milieu, and, therefore, were unable to live the Mosaic law fully. But they joined in synagogue worship and patterned their lives on Jewish moral teachings. Missionaries like Paul visited such Jewish centers and sought to persuade the local congregations to accept Jesus Christ as the promised and expected Messiah. Some responded positively, particularly the God-fearers; but most rejected the proclamation as dangerous heresy. Finally, an appeal was made to interested pagans, who often received it enthusiastically. This is how the early Church eventually evolved from being exclusively Jewish to becoming predominately Gentile. In his own letters, Paul rejoiced that Old Testament prophecies about salvation being extended to Gentiles were in process of fulfillment. On the other hand, in Romans 9:11, he agonized over the mystery of Jewish resistance to the Good News, even offering (were it possible) to trade his own salvation for theirs. Paul insisted that God had neither abandoned nor cursed Judaism. Jews continue "beloved" because "God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable" (Romans 11:28-29). This truth we must hear and appropriate! Today’s first reading invites us, as Gentile Christians, to a bittersweet joy — happy that we have been chosen and sad that our Jewish sisters and brothers do not yet acknowledge Jesus as Lord. It also includes a heavy dose of humility. In God’s mysterious providence, we Gentiles are the "last" (least important) who have become "first" (admitted into the Church).

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