Then Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John, however, left them and returned to Jerusalem; but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the law and the prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent them a message, aying, "Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it." So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak:
"You Israelites, and others who fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. For about forty years he put up with them in the desert. After he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance for about four hundred fifty years. After that he gave them judges until the time of the prophet Samuel. Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, "I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes." Of this man's posterity God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus, as he promised; before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his work, he said, "What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet."
Truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But it is to fulfill the scripture, "The one who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me."
I tell you this now, before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe that I am he. Very truly, I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me."
In today's readings a line of continuity stretches through Israel's history right through to ourselves. Jesus is sent by the heavenly Father, with a message not just in words but in his very person. He himself is a message from the heart of the Godhead; he is the great I AM. This I AM title not only identifies Jesus with the eternal divinity, but also involves him in the long history of Israel. God was revealed to Moses at the burning bush as the mysterious I AM (Ex 3:14) "I am who I am." Put into the third person, it reads: "He who is always with you." As a Hebrew name it takes the form of Yahweh.
God revealed Godself as the one who will always be with his people. In some way the ongoing, merciful divine interaction with the lives of his people determine who God is: He is as they find him in their questions and answers, their hopes and struggles and triumphs. This sacred I AM is adopted by Jesus as his own: "that you may believe that I AM," linking himself to the entire history of Israel, and of mankind.
While preaching in Pisidian Antioch (not the Sryian Antioch of Acts 11:19), Paul reviews some great moments of Israel's history, with special attention to Moses, David and John the Baptist. The line of continuity extended from heaven to earth, then from the Patriarchs and Moses on to David, to John the Baptist, and to the one John announced, Jesus.
Within this line all through Israel's long history from the eternal God to Jesus of Nazareth, some very disruptions disruptions and new situations occurred. Israel was persecuted and oppressed in Egypt. Then their entry to the land of promise was delayed for forty years while they wandered in the desert and even when it was won by conquest there was a long period before they were securely rooted there, with a united monarchy. Their first king, Saul was rejected as from the throne; and some centuries later the Davidic dynasty had also disappeared from history. This series of ups and downs, of rejection and renewal continued within the life of Jesus and of the church. One of his own disciples betrayed him, when Judas "raised his heel against me." But just after announcing his betrayal, Jesus added, "I tell you this before it takes place, so that when it takes place you may know that I AM."
Change of plans cuts across the line of continuity in history. At first, such interruptions seem to be a disaster. But in the life of Jesus such disruption marked the very presence of God: "that you may believe that I AM." God suddenly moves in ways never anticipated in advance. We are not in control! It is not that we should be totally passive. On the example of Jesus and of Paul we turn to God in prayer, and realize from the start it is God who has directed all the events. We believe and can then be inwardly at peace.
When Jesus told his disciples to welcome children in his name, it was an important lesson. They were arguing about which of them was most important. But Jesus insisted that seeking social status was not a value for him and had no place the kingdom of God. What is of value in God's kingdom is becoming servant of all, including servant of those whom the world does not consider of any standing or status, such as children. Like the disciples we can easily buy into a set of values that are not those of the kingdom of God. It is only by keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus and becoming more attentive to his word that we allow his values to shape how we think and speak and act.