Chapter III of Book III of The Imitation of Christ deals with listening to the Word with humility while recognizing that so many persons take Scripture lightly. The voice of the world is powerful but ultimately leads to one’s downfall. The faithful, though, will be tried and tested, as we read above. In the end, Jesus rewards, but not before the most challenging trials are met by those deeply devoted to Him.
In today’s first reading (Acts 14:19-28), we hear of the stoning of Paul before he and Barnabas travel to a number of Gentile cities, sharing the Good News with success, before returning to Antioch to spend time with other disciples.
How things can turn on a dime, can’t they? When we left off yesterday, we heard that Paul and Barnabas were considered gods by the pagans of Lystra because of a miraculous healing performed in the midst of the people. Today, picking up with the verses immediately following this event, we discover that Jewish agitators from other regions come to rile up the selfsame crowd to kill Paul.
Now, I don’t believe Paul was faking his death to stop the onslaught of rocks; rather; he was likely unconscious and severely battered. I can imagine the horror and sadness of those disciples who thought him dead. It seems to me quite significant that Luke (the evangelist author of Acts) mentions that “the disciples gathered around” the apparently lifeless Paul. The prayers and supplications of his friends that Paul be allowed to continue his powerful ministry must have been fervent. Imagine their great joy when, prayers answered, he pops up and boldly heads back into the city.
Saul was zealous in his persecution of Christians. His dramatic conversion turned that zeal around without diminishing it — in fact it was likely stronger since he was now part of the minority. Desiring his eternal reward (Phil 1:20-26), nevertheless he was steadfast in preaching the whole truth regardless of consequences. He had personal struggles and public disappointments. A more devout person to Christ might never be known, yet he was severely tried. This stoning we heard proclaimed today was certainly one of the harshest events recorded about Paul in Scripture but by no means the only one (2 Cor 11:23-28)
We should expect to be tried; even more so as our devotion deepens. Let it never hinder our desire to evangelize as we anticipate the divine remuneration that awaits those who persevere till the end.
The Stoning of St Paul and St Barnabas at Lystra by Barent Fabritius (1624-1673)