Commentary on the Gospel of
My mother used to tell me that fear and jealousy drive people’s trains. Such temptations are nowhere more evident than in the world of religion, where a seeming violation of sacred tradition can threaten what we hold most dear. In today’s first reading from Acts, the Jewish religious leaders in Pisidian Antioch see themselves as guardians of orthodoxy, and their opponents as reckless innovators. To compound the matter, Paul and Barnabas’ innovative teachings on Jesus Christ are accompanied by a significant shift in the ethnic composition of the community. The threatening “other” was not merely doctrinal, but also physical. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul, Barnabas and their “delighted” group of Gentile converts were remaking the very makeup of the synagogue community.
I cannot help but see resonance with our own times, and especially Pope Francis’ efforts to steer the Church toward a ministry of mercy toward the excluded. As Francis has said on so many occasions, the “culture of encounter” requires us to accompany and touch the suffering flesh of others, most especially the modern-day “Gentiles” who have been ostracized from our Christian communities. As in the time of Paul and Barnabas, Francis’ outreach to the margins has sparked “jealousy” and “violent abuse” among his religious naysayers. But today’s reading also reminds us that God ultimately has the last word, and this last word is “joy.”
Guided by the Holy Spirit, may Pope Francis – and you and I – continue to take delight in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the mixed-up communities that this gospel calls into being.