The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul. Then both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers. Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region. 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 region. So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. (NRSV)
So much I could write about this passage. When I read this my mind went down so many rabbit trails it was hard to keep up!
I think one of the risks we have to avoid in reading this passage is thinking or preaching “silly Jews, rejecting the message of Jesus!” Unfortunately, this attitude has been taken and preached all too often during the course of the Christian tradition. When I see passages like this and witness this attitude being presented, I have to ask myself “in what ways have I MYSELF rejected the good news that Jesus has to offer?” It is way too easy to point the finger about how bad someone is for not accepting Jesus into their lives, or pointing out that other faith traditions who don’t follow Jesus are wrong somehow. But debating the “right”ness or “wrong”ness of a particular faith is not the point here. The point I bring up for all of us during Lent is “how, as a Christian (assuming possibly falsely that everyone reading this is Christian) am I working to make sure that I live in a way that is constant with what Jesus calls me to live? Am I truly working to feed the hungry, free the captives, restore sight to the blind, proclaim the coming of the Lord (see Luke 4:16-24)? Or am I ‘blaming’ others for a lack of faith?”
Lots of tricky questions pop up for me in this reading. I pray that this passage and meditation will lead you and me to a greater understanding of our place in the world and our faith in God.