Daily Homily: The Spirit of Truth Will Guide You to All Truth

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

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Acts 17:15, 22 – 18:1

Psalms 148:1-2, 11-12, 13, 14
John 16:12-15

Paul continues on his second missionary journey, leaving the city of Philippi and making his way with Silas and Timothy down to Thessalonica, the provincial capital of Macedonia. Paul preached there in the synagogue for three weeks, proving first that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise from the dead, and second that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. Some of the Jews and many devout Gentiles were persuaded by his argument, but the Jews became envious of the new Gentile converts and attacked the house of Jason, who had received the missionaries into his home.

Like the episode in Philippi, the accusation before the city authorities against Paul appeals to Roman sensibilities. Jesus, we recall, was brought before Pilate and was accused of presenting himself as a king in opposition to Caesar: «We found this man perverting our nation, and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ a king» (Luke 23:2). In Philippi, the people accuse Paul of promoting customs unlawful for Romans (Acts 16:21). Now, in Thessolonica, Paul is accused of «acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus» (Acts 17:7).

Paul and Silas escaped from Thessalonica by night and went to Beroea, where they preached in the synagogue. Once again, the Jews from Thessalonica became envious of the Gentile converts, and they stirred up the crowd against Paul, who had to flee by boat to Athens.

Paul wrote two letters to the Thessalonians. The first mentions manifests Paul’s concern for the recent converts to the faith, who were left alone to face persecution. «Absent in person and eager to return (3:10), Paul sent the epistle in his place to strengthen them through these difficult times (3:3-5), to encourage them to be chaste and charitable (4:1-12), and to console the bereaved among them with the hope of resurrection (4:13-14)» (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament, 371). Paul’s second letter corrects misunderstandings about Christ’s return.

In Athens, Paul preaches not only in the local synagogue on the Sabbath, but also daily in the public square, when he has to contend with two schools of philosophy in Athens: the Epicureans and the Stoics. Epicureans did not believe in an afterlife – death is annihilation for them – and held that the world was formed by atoms moving about in a void. The only thing valuable for an Epicurean is pleasure and securing what leads to pleasure. The Stoics, on the other hand, held that everything is material and composed of fire, even God. God is the primal fire and pervades the entire world. All things return to the primal fire and this return gives rise to another world identical in every way to the previous worlds. This process never ends and man, after death, continues to exist until his return to the primal fire. Man is encouraged to live according to his rational nature and the laws of the universe, battle against his passions, and find happiness in virtue for the sake of duty.

Paul’s approach with the Jews was to show that Jesus is the Messiah. He takes a different approach with the Gentile philosophers and begins by presenting his doctrine about God, the Creator of this world and the source of all life. God is not material or the primal fire; he is spirit and does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands. He is in need of nothing. Man comes from God and is not the result of a chaotic mix of atoms or fiery process of the universe. Rather, God directs and orders both the world and man, so that man will seek after him freely. The time of ignorance about the world, man and God is over, since all truth has been revealed in and through a man whom God appointed and confirmed by raising him from the dead.

Things were going well for Paul until he mentioned the resurrection of Jesus. Although some like Dionysius accepted the faith, the majority of the Epicureans and Stoics could not accept Paul’s doctrine about life after death. They were slow to raise their minds to heavenly things and preferred a purely material explanation of the world and to place pleasure or virtuous duty as man’s ultimate happiness. They rejected that man’s true delight is in God alone and did not see that human virtue is not enough for true happiness. Our true happiness, seeing God face to face, is a gift not a human conquest. This eternal life begins in us in this life through faith, hope and love.

Today’s Gospel reminds us that it is the Holy Spirit who will guide us to all truth. When we reject his guidance we abuse our freedom. However, when we allow ourselves to be guided by him we are truly free. Just as the Holy Spirit was at work in Paul’s ministry and preaching, the Spirit can also work in us and through us. Ultimately this world was created for the glory of God. It is not the result of chaos or just one more world in a never-ending series. By allowing the Holy Spirit into our lives we share in the glory of the Son and of the Father.

Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at mitchelljason2011@gmail.com.

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Jason Mitchell

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