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In Monday’s gospel we heard that the world is going to persecute the disciples for their testimony to Jesus, but they are not to worry, for the Holy Spirit will be their Advocate and speak for them.
Today’s readings from Acts18 is an example of this advocacy. First Paul hears from the Lord that he is not to worry, but to speak out, because the Lord is with him. No one will attack him because the Lord has many persons in Corinth. And yet in the next paragraph the Jews attack Paul by bringing him before the Roman tribunal.
As Paul is about to defend himself, Gallio, the Roman proconsul, dismisses the case. He does so on narrow legal grounds. Judaism was a protected legal religion in the Roman Empire. Christianity was still a form of Judaism which proclaimed that the Messiah has arrived. The Jews want Paul punished because he is preaching a different form of Judaism, “contrary to Jewish Law.” Gallio says he, as a Roman, is not going to get entangled in interpreting Jewish law and Jewish religion. He remands the case to them to settle. And they do so by beating their synagogue leader for his ineptitude in framing their case!
Gallio is not, in our minds, one of the (Christian) persons of the Lord in Corinth. And yet the Spirit of Truth, the Advocate has spoken through him and released Paul for the Lord’s work.
And so our first learning from this gospel is twofold: 1) the Spirit will testify for us when we are attacked for proclaiming the gospel, and 2) the Spirit of Truth will speak through agents and events which we do not acknowledge as Christian. (Is the Spirit speaking to us through the COVID pandemic? Not as judge, but as inviting us to real justice in a new world?)
But let’s get back to today’s gospel. Jesus warns his disciples that when he is killed they are going to be devastated: it will appear that the world has won, by permanently ridding itself of this disturber of their peace. But the disciples’ pain will be like that of a woman in labor---it will give way to the joy of seeing Jesus reborn in his risen Body. He has conquered the world!
Jesus’ metaphor of childbirth has a different meaning for us today. On the one hand, we can rejoice with the disciples that the resurrection of Jesus and his pouring of the Spirit on us has changed our world. But, on the other hand, we remain in the struggles of labor today. Jesus’ message of self-giving love is opposed to the emphasis on prosperity, power, and pleasure prevalent in our American culture. Living and preaching Jesus’ good news in an unbelieving world is still, and always will be, labor for us. St. Paul wrote, “all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now.” Our only midwife will be the Spirit of Truth, the Advocate who will testify for us.
In our Eucharist we pray that God pour out that Spirit on us in Christ’s Body.
Fr. John Topel, S.J.