Image: Pingo National Landmark, Tuktoyaktuk
In today’s reading from Acts we begin the first of a two part “exhortation” by St. Paul to a Jewish faith community in Antioch. The synagogue, in which Paul spoke, was an oasis for the people of Israel as it allowed them a stronghold in which to practice their religion in the midst of what was an otherwise very Gentile population.
The first part of Paul’s brief talk focuses on the people’s shared story which spans centuries of history. Paul’s intention is to remind the people of what they have in common and what holds them together. Despite the many temptations to assimilate into the culture around them, Paul re-instills a sense of pride in where they have come from and to who they belong. Where can we use such a lesson today?
In our culture today the welcoming of refugees is a hot button issue. How many should we allow into the country? How do we make sure that they integrate well into our culture? Among these worries, have we ever heard the concern raised about how we will help these most vulnerable people to remember and celebrate their own culture, story and traditions that they have been forced to leave behind? Have we been able to see these traditions as gifts that are to be received with gratitude as opposed to being threatened by what we consider different and strange?
If it is difficult and painful to hold on to one’s history starting over as a refugee imagine how much more so to have all of that stripped away from you while still living on your own land. The aboriginal people of our nation have endured this very fate and are only now, after several generations of cultural genocide, beginning to once again tell their story and to pass on their culture and traditions where it has been able to be salvaged at all.
As Paul shares the story he makes sure that the people understand that they have not been forsaken and that they are still heirs to the promise which God made to them, even if they are living far away from the promised land. He then begins to explain that this promise of a Messiah has been fulfilled by God in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s Son and that their hope is secure.
The first reading and the Gospel offer two ways of understanding our story. St. Paul offers hindsight in his sharing of the history with the Jewish people. He looks back and helps them to see where God has been at work. Looking ahead is what Jesus offers in the Gospel as he prepares his disciples for what is about to take place in order that they will recognize and understand the events as they unfold.
Hindsight and foresight, both are necessary tools in comprehending God’s plan for us. It helps to look back at our own journey. What might have seemed a complicated path at the time becomes more clear with the perspective of time. When we look back and see how far we have come we realize that many of the hurdles along the way were necessary steps in our arrival.
At the same time we need to be discerning as we look forward to the future, being aware of the signs of our times allows us to move forward with confidence. We will not be swayed by every little deviation in our path if the hope of the final destination is held on to with conviction.