by Father Mike Stubbs
Which comes first: the chicken or the egg?
Does a person gain strength through physical exercise and stretching the muscles, or is it the other way around? Doesn’t a person need some physical strength in the first place in order to perform those tasks?
Sunday’s first reading, Acts 14:21-27, raises a similar question. Paul and Barnabas challenge the disciples: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” In this way, the reading tells us: “They exhorted them to persevere in the faith.”
Certainly, Paul and Barnabas know all about hardships. Their wide travels took them through many difficulties. They underwent stoning: “They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead” (Acts 14:19b).
They endured beatings: “The crowd joined in the attack on them, and the magistrates had them stripped and ordered them to be beaten with rods” (Acts 16:22).
They would face shipwreck: “They struck a sandbar and ran the ship aground. The bow was wedged in and could not be moved, but the stern began to break up under the pounding [of the waves]” (Acts 27: 41).
Paul and Barnabas’ faith enabled them to withstand those hardships. At the same time, those hardships toughened them up, and helped them to grow in their faith.
Their willingness to undergo these physical difficulties gave them spiritual strength. Their experiences prepared them for the greatest challenge of all: to eventually face their death through martyrdom.
Travel in ancient times took place under extremely hazardous conditions. Those who traveled on foot could encounter blazing heat on one hand or freezing cold on the other. They were exposed to the elements.
In addition, bandits roamed the countryside, ready to relieve travelers on foot of their goods, and possibly their lives.
Similarly, ships at sea ran the risk of being attacked by pirates or being subjected to dangerous weather.
No wonder that most people did not stray from home and lived their whole lives within a narrow radius.
Paul and Barnabas undertook their journeys in order to spread the good news about Jesus Christ.
They wanted to bring others to faith. At the same time, their constant endeavors and stretching themselves to their limits promoted their own growth in their faith.
They provide a model for us to imitate as we journey through life.