Image: Sled races at winter festival, Paulatuk
It is said that a little competition between friendly rivals can be a good thing as it keeps us on our game and always rising to the best of our ability. However, such relationships can also become toxic and it is good to know when to cut our losses and get out when we can.
Today in our first reading we find Paul and Barnabas facing the challenges of just such a relationship as they tried to share their message about Jesus with the Jewish people. Many of the listeners were receptive but some, we are told, hated on the evangelists simply out of jealousy for the attention that they were being given. The response of the duo gives an idea on how we might deal with a similar encounter.
First, Paul and Barnabas did not give an inch on the truth of what they were saying. They knew they had every right to share the word that they had received, and they were courageous in doing so. It can be intimidating to offer new ideas but if you have a conviction hold onto it. Resistance to new ideas is normal at the beginning and being patient with people is key.
It is important to note that the preachers never dismissed those who were making their job difficult. They left the possibility of dialogue open at all times and, in a very crafty way they never judged the doubters but allowed them to be convicted by their own words.
They say to the people it is not us who judge you but, “you who reject the word, and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life”.
We note then that the pair then moved on to their mission. They did not remain engaged with those who want to argue with them as it would have been a waste of their energy. It is tempting to want to go back and forth with people as if we could succeed in changing their opinion if we go after them long enough. But we know that when that happens people just tend to dig in their heels. Paul and Barnabas knew that whether or not the seed that they had planted would grow was not their concern, they left that to the Holy Spirit, who works slowly in the hearts of people.
Unfortunately, that was not the end of the story for those disgruntled few as they refused to let their issues go. They began to work behind the scenes with gossip and slander, stirring up resentment against the preachers to the point that it was no longer possible for them to continue their work. At this point Paul and Barnabas did the only thing they could and in a symbolic act they shook the dust from their shoes and then moved on to find a more receptive crowd.
While that might seem like defeat, their attitude as they left said otherwise. We are told that as they left they were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. Paul and Barnabas realized that they were privileged to share their faith and that any resistance they faced was not personal. They kept their focus on the those who heard the word of God and who believed, and they never lost hope or questioned their cause.
Sometimes it is difficult to hold on to what we believe when there are few around to support us. It is even more difficult to share that faith with others when it seems people do not want to hear. But the faith in God which we have received is precious, it has changed our life for the better and it can change the lives of others by giving them the strength and hope that we have received. So be joyful in your faith, do not let the words of others tear you down. Know that God remembers and looks after those who share his Word and He will never abandon you.