by Father Mike Stubbs
What is the best way to share our faith with others? Do we need to actively tell people about God? Is the example of our lives the best way we can show people what faith means? Or, are both needed?
In Sunday’s second reading, 1 Thes 1:5c-10, St. Paul praises the Thessalonians for sharing their faith with others: “From you the word of the Lord has sounded forth.”
It is not exactly clear how this has happened. Is St. Paul referring to the faith-filled life of the Thessalonians, which in itself has quietly sent a message to others? Or have the Thessalonians engaged in evangelization themselves, albeit on a smaller scale than St. Paul: speaking to others one-on-one about their faith, going from door-to-door?
In any case, the witness of the Thessalonians has borne fruit: ”In every place your faith in God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.”
The fact that the Thessalonians themselves have converted may in itself have provided the main element of persuasion. This unexpected event has evidently had a big impact upon some observers: “For they themselves openly declare about us what sort of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols.”
Since the Thessalonians were Gentiles, their conversion would have produced a more dramatic effect than the acceptance of Jesus Christ by Jewish individuals. After all, the Jews already believed in one God. They expected the Messiah. For them to accept Jesus as the Messiah and become his disciples would have looked like the fulfillment of their religious faith, not something completely new.
On the other hand, for Gentiles to turn to Jesus Christ meant a much more radical change. They had no background in the Scriptures, no acquaintance with the one God, no concept of a Messiah. For the Gentiles, turning to Jesus Christ would have meant a more drastic break with their past. It would have received more attention, created more of a stir.
If the unexpected conversion of these Gentiles amazed some of their compatriots, it apparently deeply angered others. They reacted to those Gentiles’ conversion to Christ with hostility. This led to the great affliction of which St. Paul writes: “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction.”
Later in his letter, St. Paul will specify the source of that affliction: “For you suffer the same things from your compatriots as they (the churches in Judea) did from the Jews” (1 Thes 2:14). These sufferings endured by the Thessalonians did not involve full-fledged persecution, as would take place some years later when the Roman Empire would outlaw Christianity. Rather, these sufferings most likely involved trumped-up charges, harassment by the authorities, and hostility from their neighbors. The Christians were viewed as social misfits, and treated as such.
At any rate, the Thessalonians’ turning to Christ won them admiration from some and hatred from others. It resulted in suffering for them, but led still others to faith. The same still happens in our own day. Perseverance in the faith can inspire faith in others.