SEIZING THE OPPORTUNITY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ACTS 13:13-25; PS 89:2-3, 21, 22, 25, 27; JOHN 13:16 ]
The first reading recounts the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas to proclaim the Good News. They were sent by the Holy Spirit on a mission. How were they to proclaim the Good News? In truth, they did not have any plans mapped out for them. Like Jesus, they went as the Spirit led them. The Christian mission, unlike business or political enterprises, is not reduced to human planning and strategizing. Rather, it is led by the Holy Spirit. “So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus.” (Acts 13:4) We might think that they should have held more meetings to prepare for the trip, their strategy and plans in winning converts to the Lord. But this was not their way. The way of the apostles was to listen intently to the prompting of the Holy Spirit leading them in their mission as they always believed that the mission was from the Holy Spirit and of the Lord. They remained the Protagonists. They allowed the Holy Spirit to lead the way.
But it did not mean that they left everything to the Holy Spirit. When the Lord gave them an opening or an opportunity, they were quick to seize it. This is the theme of today’s scripture lessons. Are we ready to seize the opportunity to witness to the Lord? As the responsorial psalm says, “I will sing forever of your love, O Lord; through all ages my mouth will proclaim your truth. Of this I am sure, that your love lasts forever, that your truth is firmly established as the heavens.” St Paul was always ready to make use of the invitation given to him. Firstly, he responded to the Holy Spirit’s prompting to be set apart for the mission of proclaiming Christ to other places. We can be sure that this was not on his mind. He was surely quite contented to help Barnabas give instructions to the Church at Antioch. (cf Acts 11:26) In today’s reading, he was at Antioch in Pisidia. “After the lessons from the Law and the Prophets had been read, the presidents of the synagogue sent them a message: ‘Brothers, if you would like to address some words of encouragement to the congregation, please do so.’ Paul stood up, held up a hand for silence and began to speak.” He did not hesitate or lose that occasion for him to announce the Good News.
He readily made use of the opportunity to address the Jews. Again, Paul was very much in touch with his audience. He was quick to adapt the message about Jesus in a way that the Jews could understand and accept. He did not begin by proclaiming Christ as the Saviour and the Lord. On the contrary, he began by acknowledging their faith in the history of salvation, beginning from Israel’s election. He led them through their common history of how God liberated them from their slavery in Egypt and led them through the desert for forty years, looking after them, providing for their needs. Then, He gave them the land of Canaan by driving out their enemies. To provide unity and stability, God gave them Judges and later on acceded to their demand for a king. And it was to King David that God made a promise that he would be the one to carry out His plan. Finally, to realize this promise, God has raised up for Israel one of David’s descendants, Jesus, as Saviour, whose coming was heralded by John when he proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the whole people of Israel.”
This was a more diplomatic and convincing way to demonstrate how Jesus is the Messiah foretold by the prophets and in accordance with the plan of God. Such a presentation makes sense because salvation is not an abstract divine intervention but a concrete gradual unfolding of God’s plan in our lives. By showing the continuity of faith and the final realization of God’s plan in Christ, it helped them to open their mind to the possibility that what St Paul said was true. Indeed, we read later on, when they “were going out, the people urged them to speak about these things again the next Sabbath. When the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.” (Rom 13:42f)
In the gospel, Jesus took the same path as well, seizing whatever opportunities there were for Him to fulfill the plan of God. We are told that at the farewell meal just before the Passover feast, He used that occasion to anticipate His passion, death and resurrection by celebrating the memorial meal. Knowing that one of His apostles was to betray Him, He found the chance to reach out to Judas by offering him a piece of bread as a sign of friendship and washed his feet as well to teach him humble service and surrender to God’s will. Indeed, whenever the Lord found the avenue to proclaim the Father’s love, He would do it.
Whether it was Paul or the Lord, they sought to give encouragement to those under their charge. Indeed, that was what the presidents of the Synagogue said to them. “Brothers, if you would like to address some words of encouragement to the congregation, please do so.” What our people also need most today are words of encouragement in their lives. This life can be rather trying because of the many demands that are made on us, and the high expectations and quality of life that we are all striving towards. This has taken its toil on our family relationships and our lifestyle. There is so much competition and self-centeredness making this world a hostile and divisive place to live in.
What people would like to hear is that God is faithful to us. This is what the responsorial psalm sought to do. “I will sing for ever of your love, O Lord. I have found David my servant and with my holy oil anointed him. My hand shall always be with him and my arm shall make him strong. My truth and my love shall be with him; by my name his might shall be exalted. He will say to me: ‘You are my father, my God, the rock who saves me.'” This was what Paul showed as well in his message to the Jews in Antioch; that Jesus precisely was the fulfillment of the promise of God to King David and his people. He was the one destined and announced by John the Baptist to be the Saviour and Messiah. Indeed, our God is a faithful God.
However, God’s fidelity to us is incarnated in time and in history. The grace of God does not destroy nature but elevates nature to a higher level. So too when God’s grace entered human history, God made use of individuals through their strengths and even their weaknesses to fulfill His divine plan. Salvation is ongoing. The process is not yet complete although it has been technically accomplished already in Christ. God continues to make use of us to bring His salvation to the whole world. Each one of us is called to sing the praises of God as well.
We are called to represent our Lord. Jesus said, “I tell you most solemnly, whoever welcomes the one I send welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” Just as the Father sent the Son and we are sent out in the power of the Holy Spirit, we must remain humble and cooperative in the service of the kingdom. We are called to do His will and not ours. If each of us would do our part, as our forefathers did in spite of their weaknesses, we too will usher in the kingdom as well.
Each one of us must seize whatever opportunities the Lord gives to us. There are many such occasions when the Lord opens the door for us to reach out and to announce His name. It could be through an act of kindness, an inspiring thought, a word of encouragement, a breakup in relationship, a misfortune, a sickness or a trial. In all these occasions, the Lord is giving us access to touch people’s lives. Alas, we are not alert to the prompting of the Spirit. The Lord warns us, “Now that you know this, happiness will be yours if you behave accordingly. I am not speaking about all of you: I know the ones I have chosen; but what scripture says must be fulfilled: Someone who shares my table rebels against me.” We will be at peace within ourselves knowing that we have done what is required of us. Unlike Judas, although he could not derail the plan of God, he suffered guilt and shame. So happiness is just at our doorstep. Like Paul and Barnabas, if we just focus on proclaiming and sharing the Good News to people according to our circumstances, we will find life great joy and fulfillment. Indeed, as the Lord said, “no servant is greater than his master, no messenger is greater than the man who sent him.” We too must follow the path of our Lord in service and love.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
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.
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