Scripture: Lectionary 290. Acts 16:1-10. Psalm 100:1-2.3.5. John 15:18-21:
Sometimes the Holy Spirit directs the apostles in ways that go against their plans and desires for spreading the Good News that Jesus is alive and brings new life to those who believe in him. Today’s reading from Acts brings home this special intervention of the Holy Spirit on two succeeding occasions of their apostolic travels. Paul and his companions are prevented by the Spirit from going into the province of Asia. They turn then to Bythynia and once again they are not allowed to enter that territory. The Spirit indicates to Paul that he is to go to Macedonia. The Spirit works through a dream to bring this about. We, too, need discernment in making some of our more serious decisions in life. Our own thinking needs the guidance of the Spirit to make the correct choice of what to do even though we may think otherwise. A discerning faith-filled community often is the way the Spirit speaks to us in some of these hard decisions; often the Spirit works within us and finally we realize it is not our will but the Spirit’s that we should follow. This goes against the natural way of making our decisions alone, but often leads us to a better and more grace-filled result through the surprising help of the Holy Spirit.
Paul came to realize he was not called to go to the province of Asia Minor nor to enter Bithynia but to enter the gateway toward the West—Macedonia– and eventually to Rome, the goal the Spirit directs Paul in the Acts of the Apostles. He listens to the first of five dreams that he will have and follows the divine intervention of the Spirit. This begins the history of the Church moving from Asia into Europe. Paul is thus a model for all apostolic missionaries who have a call from God and the Holy Spirit. Paul’s obedience to the Holy Spirit will result in great success as his mission to the west continues.
Jesus is advising and warning his disciples that they will be rejected, persecuted, and not listened to in their preaching of the Gospel. They are in the world but not of it. This mindset is necessary to overcome the worldly desires for power and pleasure. The “world” will even hate them just as Jesus was rejected, hated, and despised. Our own stance will often be counter-cultural to what the worldly interests promote. Though the world does not receive us, we still have the courage to continue to preach, teach, and proclaim the Gospel to others. Through the Spirit we have the courage to continue patiently while living out our Christian values and virtues. Like Paul we need to be aware we are not called to be in certain dangerous situations or areas where violence exists. The Spirit will lead us just as the apostles and especially Paul was led. Jesus tells us that we are chosen and thus we are one with him in the mission he has that endures forever. We thus are led to base our discernment not only on our own but on the foundations of our faith and the great practical influence that the Spirit gives to us in many surprising ways. May we have the freedom to bring the good news even to the ends of the earth. Amen.