Last Sunday our reading from the Acts of the Apostles recounted the beginning of Paul’s first missionary journey. Today’s reading tells us how that journey ended.
Paul and his companion, Barnabas, have traveled through the southern part of present-day Turkey. Their usual strategy on entering a town is to begin by speaking in the synagogue, the worship space where Jews and even some Gentiles gather. A general pattern soon develops. Many Gentiles tend to be more receptive to their message.
In the face of resistance and persecution, Paul and Barnabas move from town to town. In today’s reading, they are backtracking on their way home, retracing their steps, revisiting the towns they had earlier passed through. This time Paul begins to put in place an organizational structure in each town that would later develop into a hierarchical leadership in Christian communities.
When they finally arrive back home in Antioch in Syria, they are warmly received and all are amazed at their reports, especially how the Gentiles are open to Christian belief.
Our second reading offers the beautiful image of the heavenly Jerusalem. All through the bible, Jerusalem is a symbol of the true home for God’s faithful people. Finally, at the culmination point of all human history, Jerusalem will be freed from all its unfaithfulness and the tragedies it has had to endure. This restored, heavenly Jerusalem will be the place where God dwells among his people, with “no more death or mourning, wailing or pain.” It is a spectacular image of the future that God’s grace will usher in.
Finally, the gospel verses record Jesus speaking at the Last Supper. Keep in mind as you listen to today’s reflections, that these verses are preceded in the gospel by Judas’ departure to initiate his plot against Jesus and followed by Jesus’ foretelling the threefold denial by Peter. Still Jesus can speak about his Father’s glory and the mandate to love.
—Walter Modrys SJ
This Sunday’s readings can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.