Yesterday was the Feast of the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven. One of the last things Jesus spoke to the Apostles was to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). In yesterday’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Acts 18:1-8, we read about St. Paul once again doing just that, preaching the salvation of Jesus Christ to the Jews in the synagogue, “Every Sabbath, he entered into discussions in the synagogue, attempting to convince both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4). We can tell from Scripture that evangelizing wasn’t a walk in the park for him and we can imagine how frustrating it must have been.
I try to imagine what it would have been like to be a fly on the wall during one of those “discussions” in the synagogue. Who did most of the talking? Was there dialogue or was it mostly one-sided? Were there questions and answers? Were the conversations civil or were they heated arguments?
Have you ever stopped and wondered why he continued to preach so fervently when it must have seemed he was beating his head against a wall? Why did he keep going back for more disappointment? I imagine that each and every conversion renewed his zeal, making it worth the struggle.
I don’t think his goal was to impress upon people that he was right and they were wrong for pride’s sake. No, I suspect he preached from a position of love. He had a love for the Lord, and a love for the well-being and salvation of the soul of every person he met. St. Paul may have never actually met Jesus, but he knew Jesus through the Holy Spirit and a deep life of prayer. He knew Christ’s love, and he took to heart the Great Commission of bringing that same love to other people.
We know that St. Paul was tenacious. He didn’t give up until he’d exhausted every effort to bring men to conversion. He persisted until the opposition and revilement (Acts 18:6) indicated he was at a hopeless juncture and it was obvious that he ought to move on and evangelize someone else.
With respect to our efforts to evangelize, what can we learn from St. Paul’s style? I think we have to be clear as to why we’re evangelizing in the first place. Are we trying to convince someone we’re right and they’re wrong? Or is our concern truly based on our love for them, wanting their good and the salvation of their soul?
When we operate from a position other than love for another person, when we focus on our rightness and their wrongness, effective dialogue becomes nearly impossible. Evangelizing becomes an argument. It prevents us from understanding and accepting that the other person’s perception of truth is based on their education and life experiences, things that may be totally different from our own. We lose sight that, for us to be believed, the other person must see us as authentic and trust-worthy. That trust can only be won through listening, which is often hard to do and sometimes even painful. Rather than make the effort to listen and understand the other’s story, we have a tendency to give up too soon when a conversion may only be one conversation away.
But, like St. Paul, we may have to eventually accept failure knowing that we gave it our best shot. We may have to take the attitude of a friend of mine, a committed disciple maker, who says, “Some will. Some won’t. I tried. Who’s next?”, and move on to the next person who is searching for, or open to, the love that can only come from Jesus Christ. We may need to give up on an individual, but we can never give up on the mission.
“Dear Jesus, today, on this feast of Your Ascension into Heaven, help me to realize the grace from the Advocate as you promised. With Your help, I resolve to grow my friendship with You through prayer. And, I commit myself to deeper friendships with others as a disciple maker, bringing them into a friendship with You. Amen.”
(Some Will. Some Won’t. I Tried. Who’s Next? was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)
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