Homily for May 11, Wednesday of the III week of Easter
As the Lord’s words in today’s Gospel reading make clear, Jesus came to save everyone who is willing to come to Him and believe in Him, without any further distinction. This was news to the Jewish people of Jesus’ time. Although there are prophecies in the Old Testament about salvation being extended to all nations, this idea was not really understood and had no practical consequences. The Jews treated everyone who was not one of them – lumped together under the name, “Gentiles” – with a certain disdain, and avoided dealing with them as much as possible, since contact with Gentiles could make Jews ritually defiled.
This hostile relationship extended also to the Samaritans. The people who lived in Samaria were descended from Jews who had mixed religiously, culturally and genetically with the pagan Assyrians. This made them seem like heretics and renegades to the other Jews. As a consequence, there was a history of political and religious conflict between the Samaritans and the rest of the Jews in the Holy Land. Throughout the Gospels, there are a number of references to this mutual hostility, and their reactions to Jesus vary widely from rejection to acceptance. However, when Jesus ascends into heaven, He explicitly tells the Apostles to evangelize throughout Judea and Samaria, and then to the whole world.
The Apostles clearly took the Lord’s words seriously. In the first reading today. from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Philip goes to Samaria to “proclaim Christ to them”, and through God’s grace, he meets with great success. He performs many miracles – which means that the Samaritans had embraced the faith, because Jesus had only performed miracles where there was a willingness to believe. The “great joy” that they experience is expressed in today’s psalm.
I would suggest one lesson to remember from these readings: God can and does call people of all kinds to believe in Him, and sometimes the most enthusiastic responses come from people whom we would consider the least likely candidates. For instance, I once spend a few days in a parish in a seaport town in Maine. It was a poor parish, with all the social problems that can be common in ports where sailors come and go. But the pastor was a zealous and holy man who reached out to everyone. As a result, several of his most actively involved parishioners were men and women whose past life sounded like something from a cheap tabloid. I got to meet them and I was impressed with how their lives had been transformed; they had gone from being more or less “lost souls” to being enthusiastic and knowledgeable catechists, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, and so forth.
So, let us pray today that God will help us as a parish to reach out to everyone, that through us, God’s grace may touch the hearts of people from every background and walk of life, and together we may rejoice in our faith and “proclaim His glorious praise.”