Those who believed the historical Jesus gave His disciples a step-by-step detailed plan for creating a worldwide Church probably won't understand the significance of Sunday's three readings.

Luke's Jesus, for instance, assures us in chapter 1 of Acts that His message will one day reach "the ends of the earth." But though Jesus sepaks those words immediately before His Ascension, He still never tells His followers exactly how they're to accomplish this immense project.

Luke believes that the details will be left to the risen Jesus working in the community and to the constant, disturbing guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Saul to Paul

That's why Saul's conversion is so important. Though he's met with suspicion at first, Barnabas eventually takes the former persecutor of the Way under this wing, vouches for him to the Apostles and provides him with opportunities to preach the Good News (Act 9: 26-31). But Saul's "in-your-face" style of evangelization stirs up so much controversy among Greek-speaking Jews that his new friends have to rush him out of Jerusalem, sending him back to Tarsus for his safety and their tranquility.

Almost everyone then forgets about Saul. His unexpected conversion simply becomes a homiletic anectode. He's too controversial for the staid Christian community in Jerusalem. Luke reminds us that the Church then "was at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord; and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers."

Yet the same Spirit who consoles the community will soon drive it to the edge if insecurity by forcing its members to deal with no-JNews who want to convert to Christianity. Only then does Saul's own conversion begin to make sense. This Greek-speaking, Gentile-friendly disciple will eventually become the Church's "Apostle to the Gentiles."

Jesus' first followers quickly discovered that they didn't know what was coming next. What had startd as a completely Jewish religious movement was rapidly developing into a Gentile Church. The future was so surprisingly unknown that they couldn't even develop a five-year-plan, much less look centuries down the road. They simply had to do what the next two readings encourage all Jesus' followers to do.

Relationship

"Remain in Me," John's Jesus says, "as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me." (Jn 15: 1-8). John teaches that if you want to be certain you're doing what God wants, you'd better develop a deep, close-knit relationship with the risen Jesus.

And the author of I John tell us exactly how to develop such a relationship (I Jn 3: 18-24). "We should believe in the name of God's Son, Jesus Christ," he writes, "and love one another just as He commanded us. Those who keep His commandments remain in Him, and He in them; and the way we know that He remains in us is from the Spirit He gave us."

Those who believe the Church evolves and develops according to a blueprint which the historical Jesus gave His disciples really have no need to be one with Jesus, or to follow His command of love, or the be conscious of how the Holy Spirit works through the events of our everdyay life. But it would be nice if they shared their copy of that blueprint with the rest of us. Having such a document on our reference shelf certainly would secure our faith, eradicate our doubts and offer us a very uninteresting life.

It's evident our sacred authors never caught a glimpse of their blueprint. They believed their evolving life of faith was the most exciting adventure anyone could embark upon.

(05-15-03)