Today’s reading from Acts depicts two different reactions to the good news of Jesus. On the one hand, many Jewish people in Pisidian Antioch (in Asia Minor; distinct from Antioch in Syria) reacted negatively and abusively to the teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus as proclaimed by Paul and Barnabas. On the other hand, many non-Jewish people (Gentiles) rejoiced at the good news and committed their hearts, minds, and lives to following Jesus. The two responses could not be more distinct and opposed.
It is perhaps characteristic of our culture that we tend to assume people, in general, will welcome and accept something which appears good, whether material or non-material in nature. This assumption seems to rest in beliefs that people are basically reasonable, they want what is good, and they will respond positively to what appears to be good if given opportunity. Thus, for example, in a world where darkness shrouds life, the offer of light would be welcomed and accepted. Likewise, in a world where ills and sufferings plague people, the offer of healing (salvation) would be welcomed and accepted.
Yet today’s passage presents a different picture of how people often respond to what is good, to what is good news. This should not really surprise us. The greatest good of all time – Jesus himself – was rejected, tortured, and crucified. The evil in all of us did this. Before we became followers, we were executioners. Before we experienced and embraced his light and salvation, we raged against the good he was and the good he offered. In fact, only through the full playing out of our rejection of God’s good did God bring about the wondrous transformation of light and salvation in our hearts, minds, and lives. This is the story of the cross and resurrection.
Perhaps especially on this day, when we remember so vividly the horrors of darkness and suffering that rage in the world, we should recall humbly and remorsefully the tendencies we have in our lives to resist that which is truly good in God’s sight and purposes. In the depths of our self-recognition and regret, may God lovingly grace and transform us to rejoice in and honor his good news in Jesus, who alone is our true light and salvation amid all darkness and ills. Then may we be truly good news to friend and stranger, even enemy, as God is to us in Jesus.