Since Easter Sunday we have heard about the fantastic efforts made by people to follow Jesus’ commandment to “Go Forth and Baptize.” And not just St. Peter or the 11 Apostles explaining the “good news” to the people in Jerusalem and beyond,
But it is estimated that there are over 60 people mentioned in the New Testament who had a part in spreading the word about Jesus. Not all of these people were in favor of Jesus’ mission and some were even those who persecuted the early Christians.
Without a doubt St. Paul is the best missionary the Church has ever known. He was also one of the first to persecute of the early followers of Christ – you may recall his name was Saul at the martyrdom of St. Stephen. But in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, his name has been changed to Paul. Whenever a name change happens in the Bible, we know that this person has been set aside for a special mission from God. Saul goes from being the persecutor, to being called Paul, the one that is persecuted for the sake of his faith.
The scene of Paul’s missionary journey today actually takes place at the end of his first missionary journey. Paul had three main missionary journeys; some scholars would say four, as he sets off on his way to Rome for his persecution. Today we hear about him traveling with Barnabas. They are in Derbe and are headed toward Jerusalem – through Lystra, Iconium, Pisidian Antioch, Pamphylia, Perga, Attilia and Antioch in Syria.
I couldn’t find a direct count but it is estimated that 25 cities are mentioned in the New Testament letters of Paul; and if you add it up, Paul’s missionary journeys covered over 10, 000 miles, mostly on foot – a walking a distance between Los Angeles and New York at least 4 times over.
For some reason he kept at it. Perhaps it was a desire to live out the words we hear in the Book of Revelation. “I saw a New Heaven and a New Earth.” The old has passed away and the new is shown to us from heaven. It was not just Paul and Barnabas being called, but as Revelations says: God’s call goes out to the whole human race.
The invitation does not simply come to us from Revelation. Jesus himself issues the invitation in our gospel reading today. We join him today in the Upper Room, just as he has finished washing the feet of his disciples. It is at this point that Judas leaves. “When Judas had left them…” Without us even realizing it, there is now an extra seat at the table. There have always been twelve, now with only eleven, we are able to step in and sit down. This opening, this seat, means that we can become a glorified child of God, as the Lord promises his disciples in the prayer he offers over them.
When we sit down at the Lord’s table, we don’t know what the Lord will ask of us. What will happen? And do we have the courage to take the seat being offered to us. Regardless of what we end up doing, taking the seat or not, there is no doubt we will be given a new mission in our lives.
Jesus’ new commandment is to love. God told all our ancestors to “love” because it was the law. Jesus tells us to love one another because things have changed and he wants our love to come, not from the law, but from our hearts.
As always, just as we begin something new in our lives, be it, a career, education, family life, a child, a vocation to the priesthood or the Religious Way of Life for women and men… just as we begin something new, we don’t know where that journey will take us.
The examples we see today show us the unimaginable journey ahead. It all begins with an empty seat at the table, the invitation to come and sit, to wash the feet of others and then accept the new mission: follow the new commandment all the way to the Easter Cross: to love one another as he loves us.