We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home." And she prevailed upon us.
Jesus said to his disciples,
"When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
"I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them."
Arriving in Europe, Paul experienced a major transition in his life and ministry. Up till now in Asia Minor (modern Syria and Turkey), he had been plagued by Jewish Christians who challenged his credentials as an apostle and contradicted his understanding of the gospel. Summoned by a vision to come to Macedonia (northern Greece), Paul began a peaceful phase of in his ministry, on reaching the city of Philippi. There he was kindly received by a wealthy businesswoman named Lydia, who offered her home to the missionaries, as a working base.
Paul literally fell in love with the church he founded in Philippi. His later epistle to the Philippians is among the warmest of his writings. He wrote: "I give thanks to my God every time I think of you, which is constantly, rejoicing in every prayer I utter on your behalf? You helped promote the gospel from the very first? God knows how much I long for each of you with the affection of Christ Jesus! (Phil 1:3-8). Today's text from Acts, describing Paul's stay in Philippi, helps to correct any notion that he was a misogynist. If he had been that, how would a sophisticated, merchant woman like Lydia have come to faith through Paul, and then have offered him the use of her own house?
While living at Philippi, Paul seemed to be surrounded with contentment and success, at least at first. And yet today's reading from John's gospel mentions how Christians were to be expelled from religious assemblies and even be put to death by people who claimed to be serving God. This clash in themes may seem extreme, yet it is as real as life can be. Today, somewhere in the world, Christians are being driven from their homes and their churches, dragged before law courts and sentenced to long imprisonment and to death. The church remembers all these experiences of life. The Spirit who prompts all good actions and who consoles all sorrowing people, that same Spirit comes to us from the Father and bears witness on behalf of Jesus.
Three reflective points leap out from today's readings. 1. "The Lord takes delight in his people" (as the responsorial Psalm today reminds us). We are graciously loved through life, by God's fatherly good-will. 2. Secondly, Jesus promises us that at moments of special need we can rely on the great "Helper," the Paraclete or Advocate, that is the Holy Spirit. 3. Thirdly, we see in the interaction of Paul and Lydia how God blesses and helps us through one another. We are meant to be inter-dependent, to form a community of mutual love, care and assistance. Appreciating what others do for us, we are led by a kind of noblesse oblige to find ways of reciprocating, in return.
Lydia offered kindly hospitality to Paul. 'If you really think me a true believer, come and stay with us;' and she would not take no for an answer! Having received the gift of the gospel from Paul, she was moved to offer the gift of hospitality in return. After being graced by the Lord through Paul, she graced Paul and his companions by her offer of a place to stay. We have all been graced in various ways by the Lord. The first reading this morning suggests that the appropriate response to the experience of being graced is to grace others in return. Having received from the Lord, we give from what we have received. St John at the beginning of his gospel declares that from the Lord's fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. Because of that, we look for ways to grace others as we have been graced, to bless others as we have been blessed. Lydia knew what that meant for her - showing hospitality to Paul. The Lord will make clear how, concretely, we can give from what we have received.