Easter Sunday4 C (25 Apr 2010)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Not in Results
Jesus statement in the gospel, “My sheep hear my voice,” caused me wonder: if some do not hear his words, then why preach him, preach the word of the Lord? The phrase, the word of the Lord, is ancient, as the Acts of the Apostles attested. Believers in the risen One gave voice to Jesus’ voice and continue to do so today. Yet, the question stands: if some do not hear him, then why preach the word of the Lord?
Our first reading, which is not exceptional, sharpened the question more. We heard that preaching the word of the Lord filled [some hearers] with jealousy; and with violent abuse [they] contradicted what Paul said…and stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their territory. We may shake our heads because we have the right to speak their religious convictions. The point is to speak the word of the Lord as faithfully as one can—and to speak by deeds as well as words.
Jesus warned his disciples that speaking as he did by actions as well as words would cause others to persecute disciples in every age. From the church’s infancy to today that was so. We easily forget that because our experience is more comfortable than other disciples contemporary to us. Whether it’s giving voice to Jesus by his words or by actions that are in harmony with him and his risen life people in other places in the world suffer persecution. Yet, you and I are called by risen Jesus no less to be his voice.
That means preaching by deed and word as faithfully as we can is the point of our lives as disciples of the risen Lord. The persecution American Catholics may endure is far from martyrdom or even imprisonment. Our distress is that others pay no heed to Jesus’ voice speaking through us.
Jesus calls us as his witnesses. Even the testimony of witnesses in a civil court may go unheeded by a jury, or a jury may not give honest testimony the credibility it deserves. What a jury will do with witness testimony does not mean that a witness ought not to be anything less than honest and direct.
Because we are a practical people, it is very easy to put results ahead of preaching the word of the Lord. Yet not all who hear our words or notice our actions on behalf of the gospel hear Jesus’ voice and follow him. Does the absence of results or the scarcity of results mean we should cease being Jesus’ voice in our world? Not at all! Does the absence of results or the scarcity of results mean we should pressure our hearers with scare tactics or that we should not treat them humanely? Not at all!
It does mean three things for starters. One, we ought to consider how faithful to the voice of Jesus our preaching by word and example has been. Second, we do well to pray for the grace to speak by word and example the word of the Lord more authentically. Third, we do well to pray for the grace to persevere in our efforts to embody the gospel of Jesus and give it our flesh and blood, so that others may begin to see it not as credible but credibly human and humane.
This grace to persevere in our evangelizing efforts will prevent us from succumbing to results as the measurement of our fidelity to Jesus’ voice. Indeed, the faithful in lands not ours, lands near and far, give voice to Jesus’ gospel without results. Often results seen by later generations of Christians are not seen by earlier ones. Always the gospel is about God working life from death, a work always beyond us. We share in it by grace and by being faithful even—and especially—when it seems impossible. That is what the Easter message, faithfully proclaimed, presents from Paul and Barnabas, the countless great multitude, who...survived [their] time of great distress to us gathered around the Lord’s table.
In your 15 minutes with Jesus this week, bask in the source of Easter life and joy, the Trinity. Ask Paul and Barnabas to present you to Jesus. Speak with Jesus about how is voice finds a home within you and about what competes in you for attention to other than Jesus. Ask Jesus for the grace to be his more authentic witness in every circumstance. Close, saying slowly the Lord’s Prayer. The daily bread it helps us pray for includes our need to be a faithful witness to Jesus and Jesus’ need of us to be his faithful witnesses in the world in which we live day to day.