Then he removed him and raised up David as their king; of him he testified, I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will carry out my every wish.
From this man's descendants God, according to his promise, has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus.
John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel; and as John was completing his course, he would say, 'What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. Behold, one is coming after me....
In our first reading today, from the Acts of the Apostles, Saint Paul announced the Gospel to the Jewish synagogue in Antioch. This was an important moment for the Church as Antioch would become a major Christian center, along with Jerusalem, Ephesus and Rome. Missionaries would go out from there and return there, using the base to share their experience and insights and develop new strategies .
On this occasion, Saint Paul briefly reviewed the familiar history of Israel, from their sojourn in Egypt to the Baptism of John. If he were to speak of Jesus he first had to set the historical setting; to show how Jesus belongs in the story of Israel, and then to show how the Antiochenes would find their place in that historical moment.
I watch little more than the news on television but I notice ads about programs and there seems to be a fascination with time travel. Challenged to entertain the populace with fare that is attractive, innocuous and vaguely relevant, writers wonder, "What if a good guy could pursue bad guys through both time and space and bring them to justice?" If anyone raises questions of plausibility they can fall back on, "It's just an idea. Who knows what the future might bring?"
But I raise the question of plausibility because, in stripping away that fascinating "what-if" I find myself trapped (wrapped or rapt) in this very narrow, very limited, singular moment of opportunity. I find myself facing the most basic moral question, "What am I to do now?"
To answer the question I have to know where am I, who am I and when am I; and part of the "when" is "What has gone before?"
Paul was in Antioch, in a synagogue, with a friendly, open group of Jews before him. They invited him to speak. What would he speak of but Jesus Christ, the son of David? His life had been profoundly changed when the story of Jesus caught up with his story. It was like the large waves in a lake overcoming smaller ripples. But these Antiochenes had not yet heard the word; the rewritten history of Moses, David, John the Baptist and Jesus had not yet arrived in Antioch. They must know that everything is "changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born."
They could deny Jesus if they chose, but in doing so they lost the opportunity, the moment. There would never be another moment like that one; there might not be another opportunity.
I feel that burden of the moment as I approach Veterans in the VA hospital. My mission is to the Catholics and I have a list of everyone with that identity. Most admit they are Catholic but some have ignored or forgotten it. Most welcome me and the Sacraments I offer: Anointing, Eucharist and Reconciliation. But some say, "Come back later." And some refuse. Often, when I return, they've been discharged.
It's not for me to judge and it doesn't matter if I do. There was a moment for that Veteran. It's passed. It's past. No time traveler can retrieve it.
Jesus has sent us to this time and place with the assurance of today's gospel:
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me,
and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me."
We are blessed with this moment, and we are sent as blessings. Let's not lose the opportunity.