Ever since Easter, the first reading each weekend has been taken from the Acts of the Apostles. There is always a temptation, I suppose, to read that book as though it were an account of accomplishments of just a few individuals, Paul in particular. But it is certainly not that. The movement it depicts, the strengths and virtues it urges, are those of the community.
And despite Luke’s optimistic use of numbers in describing the conversion of the people, one of the realities of that progress stands out very clearly. It was a slow and hesitant thing. The word that was preached, the good news, was accepted by many, certainly, but it was also rejected by many – rejected even with hostility and anger.
So fairly early on in the experience of the Church, it must have become clear that patience, persistence would have to be a quality marking the efforts of every Christian in every age.
Now certainly, growth has taken place since the time of Paul. After all, the patience to which the Church is called is no hopeless resignation. Our patience must be rather a very hope-filled awareness that, despite age after age of obstacles, setbacks, challenges, and even our own failings, the Christian community is today more clearly a picture of the intention of Christ than it was then. Not perfectly so by any means, but certainly more clearly so.
The strength, the hope of the Christian community, the one thing that will finally make John’s vision in the second reading a reality is precisely the fact, that it is Christian, that it is Christ-centred.
Christ proposes himself and absolutely nothing else, as the centre of his people’s lives…Their security, their strength, their hope. And as long as the Church is truly Christ-centred, nothing at all can pose any real threat to its sure and certain perfection. This Gospel today is a brief one, but it rings with a confidence in the inevitability of John’s vision.
So, for a while at least, part of patience will be to make our peace with weakness, with imperfections, with failings in ourselves and in the world around us.
Again, not in any sense of a sort of fatalistic resignation to such imperfection. They must always be recognised and named for what they are, failings, and challenged as such.
But they must never be feared. In the objections, the challenges, the resistance to the mission of Christ that are raised, we must never see a danger, not even when it is we ourselves who raise them. John’s vision can be delayed, it can be made far more difficult than it need be, but it can never be denied. If the power of unbelievers cannot snatch purpose from the hand of God, then neither can the weakness of believers.