And 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.
Jesus said to them, "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, now violently rejects his disciples, while outsiders, particularly in Samaria, listen to the word, are willing to accept miracles, and are converted to the Lord. Sophisticated Jerusalem with its religious schools and centuries-old traditions, never gives Jesus or his disciples a fair a fair hearing; while Samaria, despised, yet open and spontaneous toward good news, listens to the disciples, responds with joy to the gospel message.
Comparing Jerusalem with Samaria alerts us to the fact that receiving the gospel is more than just an intellectual assent. 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 that made them open to new possibilities. They were not afraid of saying Yes to something new and then, suddenly, the flower of faith blooms 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 welcomed. In Luke's first volume, Jesus tries to speak to the Samaritans but they reject him because he is heading for Jerusalem. But later they welcome his gospel gladly, from the lips of Philip. The gospel can blossom even where it was first rejected. Even though we may turn from the Lord at times, he never turns from us. This is in keeping with what Jesus says in this morning's gospel, "Whoever comes to me I shall never turn away." Easter celebrates the faithfulness of God to his Son Jesus, and the faithfulness of Jesus to all of us. The Lord'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.