Readings: Acts 11:19-26, Ps. 87, John 10:22-30

“The works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.” (John 10:25-26)

On Easter Sunday, Mark tells us that Jesus “appeared to the eleven as they sat at the table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.’” (Mark 16:14-15). When Jesus spoke these words, his disciples thought that by “the whole creation”, Jesus meant the Jews living in different parts of the world. They thought that Jesus’ goal was to reform Judaism or, at most, establish a branch of Judaism. The disciples still saw themselves as Jews; they visited Jewish synagogues and prayed with them even though the Jews did not believe in Christ. At this time, Christians were called as “the believers.”

Yesterday, we read that the circumcision party criticised Peter for associating with the Gentiles. They became silent when Peter explained how he saw the Holy Spirit descend upon them. Today’s First Reading tells us after the dispersal (following the death of Stephen, who was killed for arguing with Jews about Christ), some believers went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, preaching the Gospel only to the Jews. At this point, they still didn’t understand that Jesus came to save humanity and not just the Jews. However, something happened at Antioch that would change history forever. This brings us to our lessons today.

1. God Can Use A Negative Situation to Bring Great Good: Tertullian says, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Whenever the church is persecuted, what usually follows is exponential growth and increase. This is a life principle. We make more progress during adversity than comfort. But for Saul’s persecution, the Christians (believers) would have probably remained in Israel. Stephen’s martyrdom was painful yet bore fruit; Philip discovered his gifts as he carried the Gospel to distant lands, Saul became a convert, and as we see in today’s reading, the message reached the Greeks at Antioch. Does this mean we should be praying for negative situations? No. Rather, we should not despair when bad things happen because God is always with us.

2. What Happened At Antioch?: Firstly, “the hand of the Lord was with them and a great number that believed turned to the Lord.” (Acts 11:21). This teaches us that the success of evangelisation depends on God. The believers who took the Gospel to Antioch were not exceptional (their names are not even mentioned). When the news of the huge number of converts reached the Church in Jerusalem, they sent Barnabas to Antioch to ascertain if this news was true and encourage the believers. God’s hand was upon the believers at Antioch because God wanted the Gospel to reach the whole creation. Those who argue that Christianity is a white man’s religion (foreign to Africans) do not understand that Christ died not just for the Jewish nation but for all humanity. More still, Christianity is not even a white man’s religion. The white-skinned missionaries who brought the faith to Africa were themselves converts.

3. What Happened At Antioch? Secondly, it was at Antioch that the disciples were called Christians for the first time. The Church in Antioch was vibrant because it was a church of converts. Barnabas knew Antioch was the best place for Saul’s faith formation after converting to the faith. Converts do better than traditional Christians. They are on fire for God; having willingly left their past lives behind, they do not mind going to extreme lengths to live out their faith. Converts are like persons falling in love for the first time; there is no pretence. The believers were called Christians because they lived like Christ. Sadly, today, many neither believe nor behave like Christ, yet they assume they are Christians just because they attend Church services. Hence, Jesus said: “Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)

4. The Sheep of Christ Do Not Doubt: To understand what happened at Antioch, let us examine today’s Gospel passage. The Jews saw all the signs Jesus did but were not convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. They told Jesus, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” Jesus answered: “I told you, and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father's name bear witness to me, but you do not believe because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:25-27). The Christians in Antioch never met Jesus in person; they probably didn’t see the signs, but when they heard Christ's voice through the missionaries' lips, they recognised Christ and followed Him. As the saying goes, “Never explain yourself to anyone because your true friends do not need it, and your enemies would never believe it.” Jesus did not explain himself to those asking. He said: “You are not my sheep.” Child of God, are you the sheep of Christ? Why do you still doubt? Why are you still scared of the future? Why are you worried about your enemies? Jesus says: “They shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.”

Let us pray: Almighty, ever-living God, may my actions not betray my faith in you. Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen

Remember, amid all challenges, choose to be happy. Live with a positive mindset and believe in God’s plan for you. God bless you abundantly. (Tuesday of the 4th week of Eastertide. Bible Study: Acts 11:19-26, Ps. 87, John 10:22-30).

@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu