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It’s Not About You

May 22, 2010

We have come to the conclusion of the Easter Cycle as we celebrate Pentecost this weekend. All through this period we have been reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Fully the last two-thirds of Acts has focused on the Evangelical Mission of St. Paul as he made four journeys into Asia Minor and then into Greece. The final chapters of Acts deal with Paul’s arrest, imprisonment and appearance before Roman officials such as Felix and Festus, as well as Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem and Caesarea.

Paul appeals his case to Rome and is sent there on ill fated journey that shipwrecks at Malta. Finally making it to Rome, Paul is imprisoned and awaits the trial that will either vindicate him or seal his fate. The story seems to be building to a climactic conclusion and we, the readers,  are ready to see Paul through his final trial. But then something astonishing happens: the story just ends. He is the concluding line of the Acts of the Apostles:

[Paul] remained for two full years in his lodgings. He received all who came to him, and with complete assurance and without hindrance he proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 28:30-31)

But Luke! Don’t just leave us hanging! Did Paul go on trial? We he acquitted as some traditions assert and then made his way to Spain as he wanted? Or did he loose his appeal and suffer beheading right away? What was the outcome? We have seen Paul so far and now the story just ends?!

How can we answer this exasperating and unsatisfying end?

The simplest answer is that the Acts of the Apostles is not about Paul. It is about the going forth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations. Luke has, to be sure, personified this going forth of the Gospel to the nations by focusing on Paul. But once Paul reaches Rome and, though under house arrest,  is able to freely preach the Gospel there (for there is chaining the Word of God(2 Tim 2:9)), the story reaches its natural conclusion. It is true, others had preached the Gospel in Rome before Paul, but since Paul has been the way Luke illustrates this going forth of the Word of God, the entry of Paul into Rome means the story has reached its goal. From Rome the Gospel with go forth to every part of the Empire, for every road led to Rome and away from it. Now that the Gospel has reached the center hub and is being freely preached, it will radiate outward in all directions by the grace of God.

But what about Paul and what of his fate? It doesn’t matter. It never WAS about Paul. It was about the Gospel. Paul himself testified to this when he said, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24)

We are often focused on personalities and frequently we loose track about what is most important. And, frankly the personality we are most focused on is very often ourselves. Acts never really was about Paul. And your life is not about you. It is about what the Lord is doing for you and through you. We often want things to revolve around us, around what we think, and what we want. But, truth be told, you are not that important, neither am I. We must decrease and the Lord must increase (Jn 3:30).

Some of these notions hit hard in the self esteem culture in which we live. But in the end our true glory is not our own glory, but the glory of God radiating in us. If we decrease, the Lord increases. But that does not mean we are swallowed up and lost in Christ. Rather, it means we truly become the man or woman God has always made us to be, one who reflects the very glory of God. Perhaps it is best to let Paul himself end this:

For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for the sake of Jesus. For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of (Jesus) Christ. (2 Cor 4:5-6)

This video is of the conclusion of the Acts of the Apostles. The scene begins with Paul speaking to Jewish leaders in Rome. The epilogue in the video which shows Luke leaving Rome is not part of the Acts of the Apostles.

Comments (8)

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  1. Plain Catholic says:

    Well preached, Msgr. Pope. Thank you for that Scripture too.

  2. Mary says:

    Your remarks – “We are often focused on personalities and frequently we loose track about what is most important. And, frankly the personality we are most focused on is very often ourselves. Acts never really was about Paul. And your life is not about you. It is about what the Lord is doing for you and through you. We often want things to revolve around us, around what we think, and what we want. But, truth be told, you are not that important, neither am I. We must decrease and the Lord must increase (Jn 3:30).”

    These words, I believe are the most important words written in a very long time. “We must decrease and the Lord must increase” being THE most excellent statement of all. For, if we are in Christ and Christ is in us we must do whatever it takes to increase what is in us. What is in us is the devine Image of God- Christ, who is the Word of God, God incarnate, God resurrected not dead living in all of us eternally. That Image, though changed from the beginning, is now holy for those who believe. That Image now lives in us as God’s Holy Spirit to be our conscience and guide for ‘decreasing ego and self pride’ so that all that is left is one who shines and shows the Lord in all that he/she does.

    We are not our bodies, we are living spirits housed within the temple which we call body. As living spirits of God we cannot be hurt, harmed, or killed, because none of those can ever be experienced by God. The body will return to nourish the earth and we who have nourished God by increasing Him while we were alive, will be free to be with God again. Therefore, the statement ‘Christ lives in me and I for Christ’ is so enormous in its implication and so tremendous an awareness in its belief.

    Thank you Msg. Pope

  3. Cynthia BC says:

    Tallis’s chorale “If ye love me” based on today’s Gospel reading

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Miz4xQVm7U&feature=related

    The tempo is a bit slow for my taste, but interesting to hear as a men’s chorus.

  4. Vicky says:

    I did so love this depiction of an answer which may be for some as Mother Angelica says not found in scripture, but may be used in some of our understanding as another testament of Christ Jesus. With this one particular reason I have tried to explained to my eldest daughter, after having been Confirmed since 1988 or 89 supposedly in our Catholic faith. She left for college without near enough spiritual guidance. I was bereft of her leaving home and was mislead into Mormonisn. If she, her father and I had continued to seek to find such as this similar port. Your continued prayer is appreciated all you of the Lord!

  5. Duane says:

    This is most appropriate as it relates to contemporary Bible study practice. The typical well-meaning study group reads the words of the Apostles and in not so many words state how they *feel* about it. The frame of reference is overwhelmingly self-focused, which invites abuse of private interpretation.