2017-04-30 Homily. Father François Beyrouti. From Fear to The Joy of Service. AUDIO RECORDING INCLUDED.
Sunday, April 30, 2017. Homily. Father François Beyrouti. From fear to the joy of service.
Sunday of the Ointment Bearing Women.
PROKIMENON (Tone 2) Ps.117: 14, 18
My strength and my courage is the Lord, and he has been my Savior.
Stichon: The Lord has chastised me through his teaching, yet he has not delivered me to death.
A Reading from the Acts of the Apostles 6:1-7.
In those days, as the number of disciples increased; there arose a complaint among the Greeks against the Hebrews, in that their widows were being neglected in the daily service. And so, the twelve summoned the many disciples and said, “It is not good that we give up the word of God and serve at tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom that we could put to this service, while we devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” And the plan was pleasing to the whole crowd, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip and Prochorus and Nicanor and Timon and Parmenas and Nicholas, a recent convert from Antioch. These they presented to the apostles, who then prayed and laid their hands upon them. And God’s word was growing, and the number of the disciples increased considerably in Jerusalem; and many of the priests also accepted the faith.
ALLELUIA (Tone 2) Ps.19: 1, 10.
The Lord shall hear you on the day of distress; the name of the God of Jacob shall defend you.
Stichon: O Lord, save your king and listen to us on whatever day we call upon you.
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark the Evangelist (Mark 15: 43-16:8).
At that time there came Joseph, the one from Arimathea, a councillor of high rank, who was himself looking for the kingdom of God. And he went in boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. But Pilate wondered whether he had expired so soon. And sending for the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was, he granted the body to Joseph. And he bought a linen cloth, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen cloth, and laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone to the entrance of the tomb. But Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jose were looking on and saw where he was laid. And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, in order to go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb, when the sun had just risen. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll the stone back from the entrance of the tomb for us?” And looking up they saw that the stone had been rolled back—now, it was very large. But on entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right side, clothed in a white robe, and they were amazed. He said to them, “Do not be terrified. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he goes before you into Galilee; there you shall see him, as he told you.” And they left and fled from the tomb, for trembling and fear had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
This is the third Sunday that we reflect on different aspects of Jesus’s resurrection.
On most Sundays of the year our first reading is from one of the letters of Saint Paul, but during this 50 day period from Easter until Pentecost Sunday we read from the Acts of the Apostles, a book written by Saint Luke.
In the last chapter of the Gospel of Saint Luke, Jesus tells the two men He met on the road to Emmaus: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,  and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47).
Then in the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Luke tells us how the faith spread from Jerusalem, to Samaria (8:5), the seacoast (8:40), Damascus (9:10), Phoenicia, Cyprus, Antioch (11:19), Asia Minor (13:13), Europe (16:11), and finally Rome (28:16).
There are only 28 short chapters in this book and if you are able to read one chapter each day, within four weeks you can finish the whole book. This is the perfect time of year to read about the early spread of the Church.
The growth of the Christian community was nothing short of miraculous as it did not begin with a victory in the normal sense of the word, but rather by what looked to almost everyone as a defeat.
This movement was not launched by one of Jesus’s miracles like the multiplication of loaves and fish, the many healings He did, or even the raising of Lazarus. Rather, it began with the weakness of what was considered to be the shame of Jesus’ death on the cross (Cf. Heb. 12:1-2).
Even those who were closest to Jesus did not understand the importance of this event. After the resurrection we read about the fear of the apostles who were hiding behind closed doors and the fear of the women who were the first witnesses of the resurrection.
In addition, a woman’s testimony was not accepted under Jewish and Roman law. Therefore, the combination of a group of women and a group of scared men was not an ideal way to assure that the message of Jesus would survive or be seen as credible.
Within these circumstances, it would have been expected that everything Jesus said or did would be quickly forgotten. The difficulties surrounding this story, with the fear and disappearance of any of the original followers of this crucified leader, would have surely seemed like there would not be anyone left to carry on his message.
However, the Acts of the Apostles paints for us a very different picture. After Jesus appeared many times to the women, the apostles, and His other followers they left Jerusalem with such conviction, that not even the armies of the Roman Empire could scare them. They had originally been afraid of Jesus’s death but were now no longer afraid of even their own death.
In one of Saint Peter’s earliest public speeches he courageously says: “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.  But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts. 2:23-24).
They publicly and fearlessly proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus to everyone: both Jews and Greeks. Saint Luke tells us in Acts 14:1 “At Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue, and so spoke that a great company believed, both of Jews and of Greeks.” We see a similar pattern repeated in the rest of the Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Saint Paul (See also: Acts 18:4, 19:10, 17, 20:21, Romans 1:6, 3:9, 10:12, 1 Corinthians 1:22-24, 10:32, 12:13, Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11).
The growth and strength of Christianity did not spread only by the firm convictions and moving speeches made by the early followers. The message of the resurrection changed the lives of the disciples and the people surrounding them. The section from the Acts of the Apostles that we read today also focuses on how the early Christian message had a very strong element of service; in this case to widows. There was an emphasis on preaching the word of God and also on living the word of God through service to others.
Christianity was not a new philosophy nor was its founder a new conqueror to be feared. Rather, Christianity was a new way of life and its founder was one to be imitated and served through the neediest members of society.
The early Christian community not only focused on what happened to Jesus, but they also focused on what happened to them because of the power that Jesus gave them. They not only emphasized that they received a new teaching (Acts 17:19-21 and 1 John 2:7-8) but also that they became new people as a result of that teaching. Saint Paul tells us in chapter 6 of his letter to the Romans: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). (See also: 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 6:15, Ephesians 2:15, 4:24, Colossians 3:10, Hebrews 10:20, 2 Peter 2:2.)
In the Old Testament, one of the earliest images of God is one of power. He has power over the heavens and the earth and He has power to protect His followers from their enemies. In the book of Exodus we see an example of this: “Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power, Your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy” (Exodus 15:6).
However, the Christian message is not about a God who destroys our enemies but about the God who forgave and served His enemies and asks us to do the same.
Jesus tells us: “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; ... .  For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you salute only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?  You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:44-48).
Therefore, if we are proud of our Christian faith we have to make sure that we are not only proud of following Christ who was a great teacher, a great healer, and who rose from the dead. We have to always make sure there is something new in us and there is a new perspective on everything we do because of what Christ did for us.
The early Christian community fearlessly proclaimed the word of God and they also fearlessly lived the Word of God through service to others; even those who persecuted them.
Today, as we continue to celebrate the Resurrection we reflect on how the fear of the early followers of Jesus was transformed into joy and how from that joy they began to serve each other.
Do we have that joy of the resurrection and do we live that joy of the resurrection through our service to others?
Jesus does not want us to admire Him, He wants us to love Him by proclaiming His word and to always be ready to serve others because of our love for Him. This may be seen as a weakness by some, but it is the true strength of our faith.
Courageous men and women who were willing to proclaim and live the joy of the resurrection through their words and in their actions is what made sure that Christianity spread from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.
The more we remain faithful to praising, proclaiming, and living the ways of the Risen Lord the more we will see the spread of an authentic faith both in us and in our world.
Father François Beyrouti
Holy Cross Melkite Catholic Church
451 West Madison Avenue
Placentia, CA 92870-4537
My cell phone: 714-914-1710