We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home." And she prevailed upon us.
Sing a new song to the Lord,
his praise in the assembly of the faithful.
Let Israel rejoice in its Maker,
let Zion's sons exult in their king. (R./)
Let them praise his name with dancing
and make music with timbrel and harp.
For the Lord takes delight in his people.
He crowns the poor with salvation. (R./)
Let the faithful rejoice in their glory,
shout for joy and take their rest.
Let the praise of God be on their lips:
this honour is for all his faithful. (R./)
Jesus said to his disciples, "When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
"I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them.
Arriving in Europe, Paul met with new challenges and new possibilities. While working in Asia Minor (modern Syria and Turkey), he had been plagued by Jewish Christians who challenged his credentials as an apostle and contradicted his understanding of the gospel. After crossing to Macedonia (northern Greece), he began a peaceful phase of in his ministry. On reaching the city of Philippi, Paul was kindly received by a wealthy businesswoman named Lydia, who offered her home to the missionaries, as a working base.
Paul soon fell in love with the church he founded in Philippi. His later epistle to them is among the warmest of his writings. He wrote: "I give thanks to my God every time I think of you, rejoicing in every prayer I utter on your behalf" He declares: "God knows how much I long for each of you with the affection of Christ Jesus!" (Phil 1:3-8). His willingness to use Lydia's house as his base during his stay in Philippi helps to correct any notion that Paul was a misogynist, unable to relate to women. One could say that the first house-church in Europe was presided over by a woman, and that Lydia should be acknowledged as a saint.
Three points leap out from today's readings. 1. "The Lord takes delight in his people" (as the responsorial Psalm today reminds us). We are graciously loved through life, by God's fatherly good-will. 2. Secondly, Jesus promises us that at moments of special need we can rely on the great "Helper," the Paraclete or Advocate, that is the Holy Spirit. 3. Thirdly, we see in the interaction of Paul and Lydia how God blesses and helps us through one another. We are meant to be inter-dependent, to form a community of mutual love, care and assistance. Appreciating what others do for us, we are led by a kind of noblesse oblige to find ways of reciprocating, in return.
Lydia offered kindly hospitality to Paul and his companions, and she would not take no for an answer! Having received the gift of the gospel, she offered generous hospitality in return. After being graced by the Lord through the missionaries, she graced them by giving them a place to stay. We have all been graced in various ways by the Lord. The first reading this morning suggests that the appropriate response to the experience of being graced is to grace others in return. Having received from the Lord, we give from what we have received. St John at the beginning of his gospel declares that from the Lord's fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. Because of that, we look for ways to grace others as we have been graced, to bless others as we have been blessed. Lydia knew what that meant for her - showing hospitality to Paul. The Lord will make clear how, concretely, we can give from what we have received.