SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 28:16-20.30-31; PS 10:4-5,7; JOHN 21:20-25 ]
Today, we come to the penultimate day of the Easter celebrations. This evening, we will bring to a close the Easter season with the celebration of the Feast of Pentecost. For the last 49 days we had been reading from the Acts of the Apostles and the gospel of St John. Today, we have arrived at the end of Acts and the gospel of John. The end of the mission of St Paul and John is also the beginning of ours. What can we learn from them about giving credibility to our faith or the hope that we have?
The irony of the gospel is that the more people tried to stop its spread, the more it spread throughout the world. No one can hinder the work of the Holy Spirit. In the first reading, we read of Paul arriving in Rome after a long journey. He was under house arrest. He “was allowed to stay in lodgings of his own with the soldier who guarded him.” The Jews tried to stop him from giving witness to Christ but Paul appealed to Rome. (cf Acts 25:9-12) Indeed, no one can stop the work of God, as Gamaliel had advised earlier. “If this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them – in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” (Acts 5:38f) As a result, the promise of God was fulfilled because Rome signified the end of the world, with Jerusalem as the beginning. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) In bringing the gospel to Rome, Paul had technically carried the Good News to the ends of the earth.
The gospel could spread only because we have people like St Paul who were willing to surrender their lives to the Lord. Paul was ready to testify to his hope in Christ and Christ as the hope for his people. He told the leading Jews who came to meet him. “It is on account of the hope of Israel that I wear this chain.” Paul was suffering not for himself. He suffered for the good of Israel. He wanted to share the Good News of salvation with the Jews. He did not do it because he wanted to spread an ideology or to gain power and influence. His motive was pure. It was for the sake of Israel’s salvation. Indeed, if we are sincere and pure in our motives in serving the Lord and His kingdom, He will bless us and help us to bear fruits that will last. In the final analysis, the Holy Spirit is the cause of effectiveness of our mission; not our human efforts. Jesus said, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5)
Secondly, we read that St Paul did not lose any time in sharing the Good News. Hardly three days after the long journey to Rome, he had invited the Jewish leaders to visit him. “When they had assembled, he said to them, “Brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. They examined me and would have set me free, since they found me guilty of nothing involved the death penalty; but the Jews lodged an objection, and I was forced to appeal to Caesar, not that I had any accusation to make against my own nation.” Without allowing distorted information to spread, he called them to explain why he was in chains. More importantly, St Paul addressed them as “brothers.”
Thirdly, St Paul once again showed his deep love and sincerity for his people. Indeed, in his letter to the Romans, he wrote, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.” (Rom 9:2-5) When we are sincere and do things without selfish motives, we will eventually win the hearts of people. We must be careful of religion that proselytize others by using questionable methods to win them over, not so much for their sake but for the sake of increasing membership. The Good News must be offered for their sake and not for the sake of the institution. It must be for their good. Paul was ready to do anything for the salvation of his brothers. He had no vested interests. He was not seeking glory for himself. He had no personal gain for doing what he did. Such was the purity of motives in his work of proclaiming the gospel. How many of us can say that we are serving God purely for God and His people’s sake and not ours? The truth is that many of us, in the name of serving God, are more concerned about our honour, glory, and even material gains than truly serving the people unconditionally and humbly.
Fourthly, St Paul never allowed constraints to hinder the spread of the gospel. He was a man who was always full of initiatives. How often do we, when asked to do a project or a task, complain and lament the lack of resources, manpower and time? Even when under house arrest, no one could stop Paul from proclaiming the gospel. If there is a will, there is a way. We read that “Paul spent the whole of the two years in his own rented lodging. He welcomed all who came to visit him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the truth about the Lord Jesus Christ with complete freedom and without hindrance from anyone.” Paul was focused. He turned every obstacle, every opposition, every limitation into stepping stones for growth, purification and possibilities. Paul was proactive, positive and never allowed trials and oppositions to deter him from fulfilling the work of the Lord.
Today, we are also called to fulfill our part in extending the gospel to all nations. On the eve of Pentecost, we are reminded that the gospel must be preached to the ends of the earth. Just as Paul did his part, we too must play ours. It does not matter who we are, what we do, which state of life we are in or what profession we are in or positions we hold. Each of us in our own ways must take every opportunity to witness to Christ, if not explicitly by words, at least by deeds. Like St Paul, whenever possible, we must share our faith stories, personal conversion and our encounters with the love and power of God in our lives and those who live in our midst. When sharing of the gospel cannot be done publicly or directly, we must allow our life to be a testimony to the work of God in us. Just as they were inspired by the life of St Paul and his convictions, we too must walk the same path so that people will believe the hope that we have. Like St John, we need to vouch for our beliefs. “This disciple is the one who vouches for these things and has written them down, and we know that his testimony is true.”
Availability to the work of the Holy Spirit, is what the gospel exhorts us to be. When Peter was inquisitive about the future of John, the Lord told him, “If I want him to stay behind till I come, what does it matter to you? You are to follow me.” It does not matter whether we end our life as a martyr for Christ, like St Peter and St Paul, or whether we live to a ripe old age like St John. Each in his or her ways must spread the gospel of Christ. St Peter ministered to his fellow Jews and St Paul was sent to the Gentiles. Both died a martyr’s death through execution in Rome. In the case of St John, he was exiled in Patmos during the time of the Roman persecution. (cf Rev 1:9) It was there in his quiet moment that he wrote the book of Revelation.
It does not matter where we are. We can always witness to the Lord even if we were sick in bed, dying or in prison. The opportunities to share the Good News are beyond imagination. Indeed, as St John wrote, “There are many things that Jesus did; if all were written down, the world itself, I suppose, would not hold all the books that would have to be written.” We are the written books of the gospel, our faith and our personal testimony!
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore.
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone.