MOSAIC Spring 2014 - Page 38

THE LIVING WORD Reading Scripture from the Heart of the Church Three Reasons for Christian Joy I Dr. Mary Healy n calling the whole Church to bear witness to “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis is calling us to the kind of evangelization that typified the apostolic Church. If there was one quality that characterized the witness of the early Christians, it was joy. In the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles we find three motives for this evangelistic joy. First, there is joy at the repentance of sinners. Jesus taught that the conversion of a single person who had been lost is an event so spectacular that heaven itself—the place that already enjoys unimaginable bliss—rejoices over it. He told those who complained of his fellowship with sinners, “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance” (Lk15:7). No one exults more than God himself, as memorably portrayed in the father who celebrates his prodigal son’s return with kisses, and who exhorts the disgruntled older brother, “Now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found” (Lk15:32). The early Christians exemplified Christ’s attitude toward repentant sinners. After Paul and Barnabas’s first missionary journey, when many Gentiles were converted, they traveled to Jerusalem, telling every local church on the way about the results of their mission, which “brought great joy to all the brothers” (Acts 15:3). The new converts themselves experience the joy. After being evangelized and baptized by Philip, the Ethiopian eunuch “went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39). Second, there is joy at the wonders that accompany the proclamation of the good news, demonstrating God’s love and the presence of the kingdom. Joy, gladness, and amazement constantly attended Jesus’ public ministry. After he healed a crippled woman, “The whole crowd rejoiced at all the splendid deeds done by him” (Lk 13:17). The elation came to a crescendo at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, when “the whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God aloud with joy for all the mighty deeds they had seen” (Lk 19:37). Again, this quality of Jesus’ mission continued in his disciples. When Peter and John healed a crippled man by the temple gate, he reacted with delirious joy: “He leaped up, stood, and walked around, and went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God” (Acts 3:8-9). Philip’s evangelization in Samaria likewise caused an explosion of joy: “Unclean spirits . . . came out of many possessed people. . . . There was great joy in that city” (Acts 8:7-8). Finally, the most striking reason for evangelistic joy—and that which most confounds the world—is joy at persecution for the sake (Lk 15:7) of the gospel. Jesus taught his disciples not only to endure persecution but to rejoice in it greatly: “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day!” (Lk 6:22-23). The apostles carried out this instruction faithfully. When they were flogged by the Jewish leaders, “They left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name” (Acts 5:41). Paul and Silas, savagely beaten and chained up in prison, prayed and sang hymns as the prisoners listened (Acts 16:25). Reflecting on these Scriptures can lead us to ask: Is our evangelization today marked by contagious joy at the conversion of sinners, at God’s mighty deeds, and even at persecution for the sake of Christ? “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” Dr. Mary Healy is associate professor of Sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart. 36 MOSAIC