Today’s gospel speaks of divisions that arise on account of being united with Christ when others do not know Christ. Stephen immediately comes to mind as one who experienced this division in a dramatic way when people stoned him in response to his preaching about Jesus. (See Acts 7:54-60). Paul also demonstrated the truth of Jesus’ words in today’s gospel passage, as he endured much hardship for his fidelity to Jesus. (See II Cor. 11:24-27). Of course, Paul was once on the persecuting side, too, before he had his own encounter with Jesus.
Most of us living in the West today do not encounter such extreme hardships as Stephen or Paul on account of our fidelity to Christ. But like our predecessors in the faith, we often face difficult questions about how we choose to adapt and get along -- or confront and stand against – the patterns of life in our world. In today’s passage from Acts, it seems odd that Paul, who elsewhere taught that circumcision was a matter of the heart rather than the flesh (see Romans 2:28-29) nevertheless sought a fleshly circumcision for Timothy (who presumably acquiesced in this matter), presumably so that Timothy could minister more effectively. Would any of us go this far to spread the Gospel?
Although we may be disposed to see the theme of division in today’s Gospel in terms of a dichotomy between those who believe and those who do not, there is another dimension of this passage that suggests circumspection among those who believe. Sadly, believers are not immune to errors that cause hardship for others, which may also be rooted in our own failure to know and follow our Lord. How many times have we failed to forgive others for their wrongs to us? Do we hold on to our grudges as treasures because we do not know and treasure the forgiveness and mercy of God toward us? Can we truly claim to know the Father who sent Jesus the Son when our lives do not reflect His love and mercy?
We all have a journey ahead of us as we seek to know God. As Father Bill Harmless has written, “the way one becomes a Christian is the way one remains a Christian – that is, by conversion—the journey of conversion is lifelong, communal, and required of all.” I know my conversion journey is still ongoing. But isn’t it fun to be on a journey when you know you are going somewhere? And even moreso when there are fellow travelers to help and cheer us along the way? Thanks be to God that, even when we feel that our progress is slow, “the Lord is good; his kindness endures forever, and his faithfulness, to all generations.”
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