True faith withstands all

  • April 12, 2013

Fourth Sunday of Easter (Year C) April 21 (Acts 13:14, 43-52; Psalm 100; Revelation 7:9, 14-17; John 10:27-30)

The old saying warns us to beware of discussing politics or religion. Both fray tempers, arouse passions and banish civility and charity. Paul seemed to have made many people angry in the synagogue. The account would have made more sense if the verses relating to his preaching in the synagogue had been included in the reading. Paul was never one to sugar-coat his words and diplomacy was not really among his many virtues. He marched into the synagogue, recited Israel’s salvation history, recounted the story of Jesus and ended with a rather bullying and threatening invitation to accept this or suffer the consequences.

Perhaps we can sympathize with the folks in the synagogue — after all, we would probably respond in much the same fashion if someone disrupted our church services with a similar message. We should also be aware that the account in Acts is the work of the evangelist Luke and as such it reflects his own theological purpose. The inclusion of the gentiles in God’s plan of redemption is a central and crucial theme in Luke’s theology. Most of Acts follows a familiar pattern: the preaching of Paul is rejected by his Jewish listeners and after a short denunciatory speech he turns to the gentiles — presumably they would listen. Luke portrayed the community of Christ-followers as the new Israel while seeming to wash his hands of the Jews who did not believe in Jesus.

We should not confuse theological statements with historical facts. The spread of the Christian message was far more complicated and nuanced than depicted in Acts. We do not have the right to label those who reject the message of Christ as unworthy of eternal life.

The preaching of the Word will always face resistance — not least from believers themselves! In this Year of Faith and with the call to evangelization we can rejoice in God’s all-inclusive generosity and compassion and leave any judgment to God.

The universal nature of God’s compassion and mercy is evident in the beautiful symbolism of the Book of Revelation. In the seer’s vision there was a countless multitude of people from every nation, tribe, people and language. The thread uniting them all was the universal human experience of suffering and struggle. For those who persevered, all hunger, thirst, suffering and lack was banished. God wiped away their tears and refreshed them with the water of life. Passages in Isaiah (e.g., 25:6-10; 60:1-7; 65:17-25) expressed similar hopes. The vision was not intended as a cheap “pie in the sky” type of sop in the face of suffering nor as an excuse to ignore the struggle for justice in our world.

It provided hope in the face of suffering and an assurance that suffering is temporary — our final destiny is eternal happiness in God’s presence. We can draw the necessary strength and joy from that reassuring vision to live fruitful lives that give glory to God.

Sometimes people lament that they have “lost” their faith or that someone has “robbed” them of their faith. That is unlikely, as Jesus assures us that there is no power that can snatch us out of His hands.

Faith and ecclesiastical membership are not the same thing. The bond uniting the true believer and the Lord is invisible but deep, powerful and permanent. It consists of heart speaking onto heart rather than mere religious observance. Those who belong to the Lord hear His voice and respond in their attitudes, behaviour and treatment of others. Their faith may not always be explicit but it is easy to tell if someone is walking a Christ-like path of life.

There is no power on Earth that can come between Jesus and the one who believes. True faith — firm trust in the goodness of God — will weather all the struggles of life as well as the failures and cruelties of others. It survives disappointment, the crumbling of dreams and the failure of relationships.

Jesus insisted that the Father had given Him something greater than all else that could never be taken away from Him. That “something” is the charge and gift of being humanity’s teacher and guide.

Have we heard the voice of the Master? If we still our minds and hearts we will — and then we follow without fear.