Summary: We Christians need to find more and more effective ways to communicate the Gospel message.

Thursday in Fourth Week of Easter 2016

Joy of the Gospel

St. Paul is best known for his three missionary journeys and his journey to Rome. He was the evangelizer paradigm. Nobody did it better than he. His protocol developed early. He believed that his mission was first to his Jewish brothers and sisters. So when he went into a new town, as in Antioch in Pisidia, he would go to synagogue on the Sabbath and sit down. As part of the synagogue tradition, when traveling Jews came to synagogue for prayer, they would be invited to speak. Well, that’s all Paul needs in any town. The men sitting before him, and the women off in earshot in another room, had just heard readings from Torah and the prophetic books, maybe 30 or 40 minutes of Scripture, so Paul would continue with the Jesus story. All he needed to do was somehow get to the king David. David–despite his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband–was seen as the king who did God’s will, whose descendant would be the new David, the Messiah. So Paul just jumps to the descendant who really did God’s will, who never sinned, and who redeemed us from sin and death.

The other agenda is something many of us have not discovered yet. There were quite a few Jews in the Diaspora who were followers of John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus. Some still thought John was the Messiah, a sinless man who had suffered and died at the hands of the authorities. So part of Paul’s witness was usually to repeat John’s testimony about Jesus: `What do you suppose that I am? I am not [Messiah]. No, but after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.' This twin teaching met the needs of his non-Christian listeners, and usually brought some of the synagogue-goers to the faith.

The Holy Father knows, as many of us know by experience, that we can no longer assume our neighbors to be Christians, or even theists. But they cannot be far from our thoughts and hopes: He writes: ‘As believers, we also feel close to those who do not consider themselves part of any religious tradition, yet sincerely seek the truth, goodness and beauty which we believe have their highest expression and source in God. We consider them as precious allies in the commitment to defending human dignity, in building peaceful coexistence between peoples and in protecting creation. A special place of encounter is offered by new Areopagi such as the Court of the Gentiles, where “believers and non-believers are able to engage in dialogue about fundamental issues of ethics, art and science, and about the search for transcendence”. This too is a path to peace in our troubled world.

‘Starting from certain social issues of great importance for the future of humanity, I have tried to make explicit once again the inescapable social dimension of the Gospel message and to encourage all Christians to demonstrate it by their words, attitudes and deeds.’

These words about the “areopagi” and “court of the Gentiles” need explanation. Usually the Pope, who is never at a loss for words, does his own interpretation. Let me try. The Areopagus was the open area in Athens where philosophers debated. Paul went there to try to preach Jesus to the pagan philosophers, and he was on their turf, not the Jews’. He appealed to reason in a speech that still inspires us, but failed to inspire the pagans. They didn’t know the history, and they were not stirred by the idea of rising from the dead, because they didn’t value the human body as much as the mind. So the thought of a resuscitated corpse was repugnant to them. They didn’t imagine a glorified body as Jesus has, and as we wish to have. The Court of the Gentiles was the place for Gentiles to pray at the Jerusalem temple.

I believe the new “areopagi” and courts of the Gentiles are now in the social media. We Christians need to find more and more effective ways to communicate the Gospel message, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, to people who are thirsting to hear about redemption from sin, about Divine Mercy. Let’s use whatever devices we have at our disposal to help others see that loving service and community building in the Church of sacramental life are truly the ways to human happiness and peace.

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