Eastertide Sunday 4C, 8th May 2022
When to stay; when to go? Paul and Barnabas are following closely in the footsteps of Christ – in the same dynamic of learning when to speak; when not to speak; what to say, what not to say, and its largely unscripted, though Paul has just emulated Peter here in addressing the crowd with a careful exposition of all the texts in the Hebrew scriptures which point to Christ as Lord and Saviour as the long awaited Messiah. Or rather this is what he had done the week before when invited by the president of the synagogue to ‘address some words of encouragement to the congregation’. When they came on the following Sabbath they found they had been too successful in this and provoked jealousy among the synagogue leaders who then engineered their expulsion. But Paul and Barnabas are not cowed by this – they have at their centre a security in Christ, in God, which cannot be assailed, perhaps akin to Christ being able to say ‘The Father and I are one’ and subject them to the voice of one like a shepherd: hearing that voice they go on undeterred to Iconium to repeat the exercise and encounter once again ‘the fickle crowd’ with some persuaded, and some not. And so it goes on.
The great scripture scholar Tom Wright has an interesting take on this mix of scripted and unscripted way of living;
‘[The fifth act] in which the church is called to live and work is characterised by two things. First it has firm and fixed foundations, including a definite closing scene which is already sketched in RM8, 1Cor, Eph1, Col1 and Rev 21 and 22. Second it has the command under the Spirit to improvise a way through the unscripted period between the opening scenes and the closing one. Note: no musician would ever suppose that improvising means playing out of tune or time. On the contrary it means knowing extremely well where one is in the implicit structure and listening intently to the other players so that what we all do together, however spontaneously, makes sense as a whole’[Page172 Paul: Fresh Perspectives 2005]
I find that comparison very helpful – for what we often appear to be doing in the monastery is toying dangerously with an unscripted text, a recipe for chaos, almost anarchic, but what I think is actually happening is allowing God to have a say, is allowing the Shepherd to have a voice and it’s our job to be attuned to that voice that we can respond to its always creative impulse in an appropriate manner, that is in a loving manner. For, as Tom Wright goes on to say our identity is not to be one of
an arrogant modernist self’ – that is changing for the sake of change but ‘rooted in God as a new creation. Not ‘cogito ergo sum’ but ‘amor ergo sum’. ‘I am loved therefore I am’ for ‘In love the person who is loving is simultaneously allowing the otherness of that which is loved and their own deep involvement with that other.
If this is so perhaps we too can then say ‘the Father and I are one.’