C Cycle – 4th Sunday of Easter 22
Acts 13:14. 43-52
Paul continued his mission to preach the good news of salvation to the Jews reaches Pisidia. On the Sabbath, Paul and Barnabas speak to Jews and converts urging them to be faithful to the “grace of God.” It is interesting Paul as a Pharisee, was advocating an attitude of thanksgiving to God for the gift of grace versus adherence to the law as a means of obtaining favor with God. He was not emphasizing the ritual sacrifices for the atonement of sin, but they were telling them grace cannot be earned by anything they did. He was not emphasizing their required tithe, or attendance at the annual feasts. He was emphasizing an outward and inward response to the ‘grace of God” needs to be what they celebrated.
It is no wonder that on the following Sabbath almost the entire city gathered to hear Paul and Barnabas. It was no wonder that the Jews seeing the crowd “with violent abuse contradicted Paul and Barnabas.” The message those in Pisidia would have heard each week was vastly different than the message of Paul and Barnabas. Reflecting on this reading from the Acts of the Apostles it is no wonder the people responded to Paul’s message of grace. Think of that message for just a minute; close your eyes and digest the me fact your penalty for your sins no longer exists. Sin has its own penalty and our response to sin is to embrace the gift of Jesus Christ death for our sins. The required response demands a faith in something unseen and unbelievable.
It is no wonder the leading Jews of Pisidia challenged and contradicted the message of grace. The message of God’s grace is in the polar opposite of what the Pharisee’s were trained to teach, and what they believe is the only way to appease God when we sin. Their message demands discipline and a belief that without a penalty their sin will condemn them. Forgiveness of transgressions can only be removed by the offering of a sacrifice. Paul and Barnabas were not advocating the abolition of the sacrifice but were redefining what the sacrifice was accomplishing. Grace demands a response and to Paul the sacrifice we need to make is not to seek atonement but to acknowledge and give thanks for the gift of grace. That attitude changes the meaning of the sacrifice.
When we begin to grasp the full meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ a shift within us occurs. When we begin to grasp the full meaning of the plan of God to restore the relationship with God, a shift in how we worship occurs. When we grasp how our sins have created a barrier between ourselves and God, we respond by doing all we can to remove that barrier. That motivates us to depend on ourselves to restore the broken relationship with God. However, when we realize the truth in the message of God’s grace, we know there is nothing we need to do but to allow ourselves to seek the embrace of a loving forgiving God.
It is no wonder the people responded to Paul and Barnabas. We know the self-condemnation for repeated failures and repeated attempts to change. Over and over again we seek forgiveness for the same offense asking ourselves why we cannot change. We fail to realize the only way to eliminate repeated sins in our lives is to allow God’s grace to wash over us. Paul and Barnabas respond to the Pharisees criticism of their message and their emphasis on the need to adhere to acts of atonement should send shivers down to our core. Their rejection of the message of grace is a rejection of God’s plan for our salvation, our restoration as sons and daughters and the rejection of what God desires for us. ‘
The scriptures tell us all sin will be forgiven except “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” (Mt. 12:31). God’s gift of grace flows from the fullness of the trinity, God the Father sent us Christ to die for the penalty of our sins and the Holy Spirit who will change our hearts, so we choose God over self. On this day, those who rejected the message of God’s grace, condemned themselves and were deemed by Paul to be unworthy of eternal life.