Happy in the Midst

By Elizabeth Baumann

Reading from Acts, 13:44-52

44 The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul. 46Then both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles. 47For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,
‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles,
   so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers. 49Thus the word of the Lord spread throughout the region. 50But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their region. 51So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them, and went to Iconium. 52And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.


We’re in the full swing of election season now, so this scene from Acts seems rather familiar: motivated by jealousy, the Jews slander Paul and Barnabas. When Paul and Barnabas simply begin raking in Gentile converts instead, the Jews appeal to all their powerful friends to amp up the persecution. At last Paul and Barnabas are driven away to the next city. But slandered and silenced, they’re HAPPY. Filled with joy. What’s their secret? Well, it’s the Holy Spirit, of course, but that sort of feels like begging the question.

Recently, I read a new book by comedian and Catholic Jennifer Fulwiler, Your Blue Flame. One of the bits of advice I took away was, “You’re only the intern.” That is, when you’re doing the work that God calls you to do, God is responsible for it because it was his idea, and he gave you the gifts you’re using to do it. You’re just following instructions. If things implode or go awry, you’re no more responsible for that than if things go great — it’s all the job of the Holy Spirit, especially when your work is preaching the gospel.

It’s a lesson we need. We aren’t responsible to refute every lie and every slander. We aren’t even responsible to correctly enumerate all the world’s problems, much less know how to solve them. Don’t shirk your calling. But this is the world God made, which he loved so much that he sent his son to die for it. We can trust him to care more about it than we do, to be more powerful than the powerful.

Isn’t that a reason for happiness if you ever heard one?

Elizabeth Baumann is a seminary graduate, a priest’s wife, and the mother of two small daughters. A transplant from the West Coast, she now lives in “the middle of nowhere” in the Midwest with too many cats.

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