Today’s Gospel started out so nice: Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you. And if you weren’t paying attention, swaying along with groovy thoughts (Sorry, if I just summoned this image of Jesus being a 70’s hippie) you might have missed an important follow up. Jesus speaks of the devil’s presence and activity in the world: I will no longer speak much with you, for the ruler of the world is coming. There’s almost a general acceptance to this reality – that evil in a lot of ways runs amuck. As familiar as this is, logical thinking keeps asking old questions anew… but why? Why not vanquish evil completely? Can’t there be a better way, an easier way?
The first reading gives a clue. We see and hear about Paul and Barnabas’ early efforts at preaching. They’re effective – very effective actually in winning over converts. So much so that it catches the attention of the leaders who stone Paul, drag him out of the city thinking he was dead. The ruler of the world was still at it. What’s remarkable is reading that very matter of factly the Acts of the Apostles describes Paul’s next moves: he got up – continued on – persevered in His mission.
What enables Paul to remain committed when it would be completely understandable if this whole experience had been so traumatic that he give up his attempts to win people over? Perhaps it’s because Paul remembered being where those men who did that to him were. There was a time he thought he was doing God’s will. There was a time when he was blinded by his own self-righteousness, deaf to God’s word (while believing he was acting in accordance to it). God’s great patience and mercy, waited for Paul… Even in the face of the destruction that Paul brought to many of the earliest of followers – overseeing, coordinating the persecution of the Church which resulted in torture and death, the Lord would receive those souls into His eternal embrace and in the meantime, God kept waiting, kept hoping, and ultimately, Paul would encounter Jesus Christ in a way that completely turned his life around and resulted in Paul having one of the largest roles in the growth in the faith – writing a bulk of the New Testament.
Our assurance of God’s Peace is found in recognizing this reality – He thinks that each and everyone of us is worth the effort, worth waiting for, to actually hear His calls and to respond – finding when we do that our true peace is found in Him alone.