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."
I will sing for ever of your love, O Lord;
through all ages my mouth will proclaim your truth.
Of this I am sure, that your love lasts for ever,
that your truth is firmly established as the heavens. (R./)
I have found David my servant
and with my holy oil anointed him.
My hand shall always be with him
and my arm shall make him strong. (R./)
My truth and love shall be with him;
by my name his might shall be exalted.
He will say to me: 'You are my father,
my God, the rock who saves me.' (R./)
" 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, beforehand, so that when it happens 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 continuous faith stretches through Israel's history through Jesus and right through to today. Jesus is sent by the heavenly Father, with a message not just in words but through his person. He is himself both messenger and message from the heart of the living God. Like Yahweh on Mount Horeb, Jesus can say of himself, I AM. This I AM title not only identifies Jesus with the eternal divinity, but intertwines him in the long history of Israel. He is the image of the God 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; and the name of Jesus in Hebrew means "Yahweh saves".
God is revealed as the one who will always be with his people. In some way that ongoing, saving interaction with the lives of his people determine who God is. They discovered aspects of God in their hopes and struggles and triumphs. This sacred name of Yahweh (I AM) is adopted by Jesus as his own: "that you may believe that I AM," thus linking himself to the entire history of Israel, and of mankind.
While preaching in Pisidian Antioch (not Syrian Antioch, Acts 11:19), Paul reviews some great moments of Israel's history, with focus on Moses, David and John the Baptist, leading ultimately to Jesus. Israel's long history from the eternal God to Jesus of Nazareth, saw many disruptions and new situations. They were oppressed in Egypt and their entry to the land of promise was delayed for forty years. Even when the land was won by conquest there was a long period before they could settle it securely, under a united monarchy. Their first king, Saul was deposed; and some centuries later David's dynasty also disappeared. This series of defeat and renewal continued within the life of Jesus and his church. Judas, one of his own disciples betrayed him ("raised his heel against me.") But when predicting this betrayal, Jesus added, "I tell you before it takes place, so that when it takes place you may know that I AM."
Many changes cut across the line of continuity in history. At first, they seem to be disastrous. But in the life of Jesus such disruption marked the very presence of God: "that you may believe that I AM." God moves in ways never anticipated in advance. But just becaus we are not in full control of events is no reason to 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. Then we do our best and can be inwardly at peace.
When Jesus told his disciples to welcome children in his name, it was a wake-up call. They were arguing about which of them should be in charge and sit at the top table. But for Jesus, seeking social status was trivial and had no place the kingdom of God. What is valuable in God's kingdom is becoming servant of all, including servant of those to whom the world did not give any real status, such as children. Like the disciples we can easily buy into a frivolous set of values that are not those of the kingdom of God. It is only by keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus and being attentive to his word that we allow his values to shape how we think and speak and act.