A few longer passages mark most of today’s post. The first comes from the Acts of the Apostles:
13 Now Paul and his company set sail from Paphos, and came to Perga in Pamphyl′ia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem; 14 but they passed on from Perga and came to Antioch of Pisid′ia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading of the law and the prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, “Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.” 16 So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said:
“Men of Israel, and you that fear God, listen. 17 The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. 18 And for about forty years he bore with them in the wilderness. 19 And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance, for about four hundred and fifty years. 20 And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. 21 Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. 22 And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king; of whom he testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ 23 Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. 24 Before his coming John had preached a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’
26 “Brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you that fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. 27 For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets which are read every sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning him. 28 Though they could charge him with nothing deserving death, yet they asked Pilate to have him killed. 29 And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead; 31 and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. 32 And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, 33 this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm,
‘Thou art my Son,
today I have begotten thee.’
34 And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he spoke in this way,
‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.’
35 Therefore he says also in another psalm,
‘Thou wilt not let thy Holy One see corruption.’
36 For David, after he had served the counsel of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid with his fathers, and saw corruption; 37 but he whom God raised up saw no corruption. 38 Let it be known to you therefore, brethren, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, 39 and by him every one that believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. 40 Beware, therefore, lest there come upon you what is said in the prophets:
41 ‘Behold, you scoffers, and wonder, and perish;
for I do a deed in your days,
a deed you will never believe, if one declares it to you.’”
42 As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next sabbath. 43 And when the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.
44 The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered together to hear the word of God. 45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted what was spoken by Paul, and reviled him. 46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,
‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.’”
48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. 49 And the word of the Lord spread throughout all the region. 50 But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. 51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and went to Ico′nium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
I chose this passage thanks to a discussion I had recently with a deacon about the evangelical work of St. Paul. He explained that most synagogues would have been relatively small, and everyone would have known everyone else. So it would have been apparent when visitors were present. Often it was practice to have the visitors introduce themselves and say a few words. Paul, being a former Pharisee, probably still dressed as one. So those present would have seen that he was likely an expert of the Law and would have been eager to hear what he had to say. This is why he was given the opportunity to speak up and to explain to the Jews at the Synagogue the Good News.
Also this passage interested me because of the reaction of the Jewish leaders in the city. They incited not only the leading men of the city, but also the women of high standing. The fact that St. Luke saw fit to mention this shows that it had no small meaning. What I take from it is that it demonstrates that women were not powerless in that day and age, despite the claims of some modern interpreters, who use that argument as a means to distance modern practices from the faith as practiced by the Apostles. In fact the entire book of Acts is replete with examples of Holy women who help to advance the cause of the faith. It is just that the role of the ancient sisters in the faith was often different from that of that of the ancient brothers. Which should be no surprise, much less a cause for alarm or suspicion or anything else. After all, Scripture addresses this matter early on:
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
God created us man and woman, each of us with noble work in mind. Some of the work will be the same, and some different. But all is worthy if made in service to the Glory of God.
This brings me to the next major passage, from the Prophet Isaiah:
O Lord, you are my God;
I will exalt you, I will praise your name;
for you have done wonderful things,
plans formed of old, faithful and sure.
2 For you have made the city a heap,
the fortified city a ruin;
the palace of aliens is a city no more,
it will never be rebuilt.
3 Therefore strong peoples will glorify you;
cities of ruthless nations will fear you.
4 For you have been a refuge to the poor,
a refuge to the needy in their distress,
a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat.
When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm,
5 the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place,
you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds;
the song of the ruthless was stilled.
6 On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
7 And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
8 he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.
9 It will be said on that day,
Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.
The Jews who lived in Israel and in the Diaspora during the time of Jesus would have known of this passage. Isaiah was an important prophet, especially during that time, when the Messiah was supposed to appear. But they did not fully understand what the prophet foretold. They knew that the Lord would destroy the shroud, the veil that was kept over the people of the world and that death would be destroyed. But they didn’t understand that it was the final death, the true death, the separation from God which was the result of Original Sin, that was to be destroyed. The disgrace the Lord took away from us was the disgrace of Eden, the disgrace of our father Adam and our mother Eve in rebelling against the Lord. Nor did they understand that when Isaiah said “this is our God”, he was being literal- this was our God who would be present among us. More so, they did not understand that the mountain where death would be destroyed was not Zion, but Golgotha. Most important of all, they did not understand that the feast prepared for them was the body and blood of our Lord. That the banquet feast was the sacrifice made to atone for our sins. They did not understand, and sadly, even when it was explained to them, they still refused to believe:
35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. 37 Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; 38 for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”
41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.“
What is unfortunate is that most of the time the truth is given to us plainly, and yet we refuse to accept it. We are either too committed to what we have believed for a long time, to our preconceived notions, or we refuse to embrace the truth because it requires more of us than we are willing to give. When we are given that truth, let us not follow in the footsteps of those disciples who turned back. Instead, let us recognize that we have no others to whom we can go. Only One is the source of eternal life.