Saul approved of their killing him. That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.
Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did, for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed; and many others who were paralyzed or lame were cured. So there was great joy in that city.
Cry out with joy to God all the earth,
O sing to the glory of his name.
O render him glorious praise.
Say to God: 'How tremendous your deeds!' (R./)
'Before you all the earth shall bow;
shall sing to you, sing to your name.'
Come and see the works of God,
tremendous his deeds among men. (R./)
He turned the sea into dry land,
they passed through the river dry-shod.
Let our joy then be in him;
he rules for ever by his might. (R./)
Jesus said to the people, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day."
Jerusalem, which had been a special place of Jesus' ministry, violently rejected his disciples, while outsiders, particularly in Samaria, accepted his word, were willing to accept miracles, and were converted and baptised. Sophisticated Jerusalem with its religious schools and centuries-old traditions, never gives Jesus or his disciples a fair hearing; while the despised Samaritans responded with joy to the gospel message.
Comparing Jerusalem with Samaria alerts us to the fact that believing the gospel is more than just an intellectual assent to religious doctrine. In Jerusalem the sacred tradition of Moses was preserved, by the central governing body of Judaism. Yet, Jerusalem violently rejected Jesus and his first disciples. There was a direct simplicity about the Samaritans' outlook that made them open to new possibilities. Because they were not afraid of saying Yes to something new, the flower of faith bloomed among them.
Truly, the Bread of Life is most readily received by the humble of heart.
Philip shares the gospel in Samaria and his message is warmly welcomed. In Luke's first volume, Jesus tried to speak to the Samaritans but they rejected him because he was heading for Jerusalem. But later they welcomed his gospel with great joy, on hearing it from the lips of Philip the deacon. God's word can blossom even where it was first rejected. Even though we may turn from the Lord at times, he never turns his back on us. Indeed we have Jesus' own word that, "Whoever comes to me I shall not turn away."
Easter celebrates the faithfulness of God to his Son Jesus, and the faithfulness of Jesus to all of us. God's faithfulness encourages us to keep turning back to him, to keep coming to him, even after we have turned away from him. Even when we fail to respond to his coming, he offers himself to us as the bread of life and he continues to promise us that if we come to him we will never hunger and if we believe in him we will never thirst.