One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, "Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people." He stayed there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
When Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal. They said, "This man is persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to the law." Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, "If it were a matter of crime or serious villainy, I would be justified in accepting the complaint of you Jews; but since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves; I do not wish to be a judge of these matters." And he dismissed them from the tribunal. Then all of them seized Sosthenes, the officer of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of these things.
After staying there for a considerable time, Paul said farewell to the believers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had his hair cut, for he was under a vow.
All peoples, clap your hands,
cry to God with shouts of joy!
For the Lord, the Most High, we must fear,
great king over all the earth. (R./)
He subdues peoples under us
and nations under our feet.
Our inheritance, our glory, is from him,
given to Jacob out of love. (R./)
God goes up with shouts of joy;
the Lord goes up with trumpet blast.
Sing praise for God, sing praise,
sing praise to our king, sing praise. (R./)
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!
Christ had to suffer and to rise from the dead,
and so enter into his glory. (R./)
Jesus said to his disciples,
"Very truly, I tell you, you will weep and mourn, but the world will rejoice; you will have pain, but your pain will turn into joy. When a woman is in labour, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. On that day you will ask nothing of me. Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete."
We might think that all possible questions about faith or morals can be resolved from the Bible and tradition. Today's Gospel, however, suggests that we will still have questions to resolve until the Lord's second coming. "[Only] on that day you will have no questions to ask me," says Jesus. Such a saying might be expected from the earliest strands of the New Testament, say from the gospel of Mark, or the Epistle to the Thessalonians. But it comes in the gospel of John, written some sixty years after the resurrection. Since the author of this gospel could survey almost the the whole New Testament era, we imagine he should have had all the answers. Yet he gives it as the mind of Christ that we must await the second coming before all questions cease.
To balance this, we have Christ's assurance that he is with us, as we seek answers to the questions that life continues to throw up. Amid St Paul's uncertainty about how to share the Gospel message in Corinth, Jesus appeared to him with the promise: "I am with you." Even after this promise Paul has serious issues to face. He is accused before the Roman proconsul as a trouble-maker, and then the protestors turn upon their own synagogue leader, Sosthenes (who has supported Paul) and beat him up.
Paul began his pilgrimage to Jerusalem by taking the Jewish Nazirite vow (Num 6:1-21). He shaved his head and would not cut his hair again until the vow is completed. He would follow strict dietary laws and keep himself ceremonially pure. It looks as though he had returned more fully to Jewis practice and immersed himself in traditional Jewish customs, before leaving Cenchreae (the seaport of Corinth) and sailing for Jerusalem.
Why would Paul carry out these Jewish rituals, while insisting that his pagan converts were free from all such regulations? Evidently, God's will for Paul's own lifestyle was still being clarified - he thought long and hard about what he ought to do. This brings to mind the words of Jesus about a woman in labour, about birth-pangs followed by joy. In some sense, we are all like that pregnant woman, for we are called to commit ourselves to our work, when often the future is not clear. But we have the assurance of Jesus that "your grief will be turned into joy." Jesus' invisible presence helps us to deal with each issue, as it arises.
Jesus speaks frankly about the impact his death will have on his disciples, "I tell you most solemnly, ... you will be sorrowful." The death of someone close to us always brings strong feelings of sadness and loss. Jesus knows his disciples will experience all these feelings when he is taken from them. But he says that these feelings won't last forever. Their sorrow will turn into lasting joy.
The same Lord promises that sorrow and pain and death will not have the last word in our lives either. Because he has passed from death to new life all our sorrows, pains and losses will be ultimately transformed by him. The start of this transformation can be experienced here and now. Because he journeys with us as risen Lord, his words apply: "your sorrow will turn to joy." This promise holds not just for the life to come but already on our present life journey. This was something the two disciples on the road to Emmaus discovered, and that we can eachl discover for ourselves.