“And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria.” (Acts 8:1)
Yesterday, someone asked me a question: “When you pray very hard for something with deep faith and trust in God and yet, God does not answer you, what should you do?” As I read this question on my phone, I could feel the anger and frustration in the mind of the person.
I didn’t know how to respond so I just looked up. As I raised my head, I saw the Crucifix hanging on the wall and I immediately remembered that the Bible is filled with stories of persons who prayed and God did not grant their prayers. One of them was Jesus Christ. The truth dawned on me that God never stops being God simply because He does not answer prayer sometimes. He is still God even when those who believe in Him suffer.
Our first reading today begins by telling us how great persecution arose against the church following the death of Stephen. These Christians must have prayed very hard, but their prayers did not stop the Roman swords from slicing their throats. God remained God. He did not prevent their deaths but as we see, what began on a sad note ended on a very joyful note. Consider the last line of our first reading: “So there was much joy in that city.” (Acts 8:8).
God doesn’t always answer prayer but He sure knows how to write straight on very crooked lines. This is why God deserves our complete trust. He may not give us exactly what we want but in the end, we realize that even those events or circumstances we labelled as negative ultimately turn out for our good. Do not get angry with God, just trust Him and wait for His will.
But for the persecution, Philip might not have left Jerusalem. Maybe he would not have known he had the gifts of preaching and healing to work great signs. Like food that has to be cooked, I believe God allows hardship and crisis in our lives to cook us so that our true value comes out. As Denzel Washington once said: “Ease is a greater threat to progress than hardship.”
God never promised that if we serve him, everything will be smooth in our lives. No! The book of Sirach 2:1 says: “My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal.” Jesus also makes us understand that following him entails carrying a cross: “You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance, you will gain your lives.” (Luke 21:16-19).
When we juxtapose both our first reading and our Gospel passage together, this is the picture we get: Trials and hard times would surely come our way as long as we continue to serve God, we may even lose our lives due to such trials but even if we die, Jesus will raise us up on the last day. As Jesus assures us today: “This is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40).
Like an athlete running with the pole to take the high jump, we must trust God completely even in very difficult moments knowing that when we go up so high to jump, a very soft landing awaits us. Endure! “Sorrow may last in the night but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:5)