As Christians we rejoice for Jesus Christ is Lord. God is King. Sin and death have been defeated. At the same time, we mustn’t succumb to a “cheap grace” interpretation of Christianity, whereby Christ is risen and all is well. As Julian of Norwich said, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” Notice the future tense!
The definitive battle has been won, but the war continues. St. Paul knew this well. His strategy, as we know, was to go to synagogues first, for the message he had was a distinctively Jewish message: that the long-awaited Messiah had come.
Many Jews listened – and this was the beginning of Paul’s church. We hear that in Antioch practically the whole city gathered to listen to Paul and Barnabas. But “when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and with violent abuse contradicted what Paul said.” Please don’t fall into an anti-Semitic trap here, for many of the Jews did listen to him. But from the beginning, this message was opposed.
Why? The most basic reason is that acknowledging the Lordship of Jesus means that your life has to change. For many this is liberating good news, but for others it is a tremendous threat. If Jesus is Lord, my ego cannot be Lord. My country cannot be Lord. My convictions or culture cannot be Lord.
The Resurrection is the clearest indication of the Lordship of Jesus. This is why the message of the Resurrection is attacked, belittled, and explained away. The author of Acts speaks of the “violent abuse” hurled at Paul. What was Paul’s reaction to this? He “shook the dust from [his] feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium” where he was “filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.”
We’re up against a great mystery here. We are called to announce the good news to everyone, but not everyone will listen. Once we’ve done our work, we should move on and not obsess about those who won’t listen. Why do some respond and some don’t? Finally, that’s up to God.