26 May 2017
At Corinth one night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid to speak out, nor allow yourself to be silenced: I am with you. I have so many people on my side in this city that no one will even attempt to hurt you.’ So Paul stayed there preaching the word of God among them for eighteen months.
But, while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a concerted attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal. ‘We accuse this man’ they said ‘of persuading people to worship God in a way that breaks the Law.’ Before Paul could open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, ‘Listen, you Jews. If this were a misdemeanour or a crime, I would not hesitate to attend to you; but if it is only quibbles about words and names, and about your own Law, then you must deal with it yourselves-I have no intention of making legal decisions about things like that.’ Then he sent them out of the court, and at once they all turned on Sosthenes, the synagogue president, and beat him in front of the court house. Gallio refused to take any notice at all.
After staying on for some time, Paul took leave of the brothers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had his hair cut off, because of a vow he had made.
Jesus said to his disciples:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
you will be weeping and wailing
while the world will rejoice;
you will be sorrowful,
but your sorrow will turn to joy.
A woman in childbirth suffers,
because her time has come;
but when she has given birth to the child she forgets the suffering
in her joy that a man has been born into the world.
So it is with you: you are sad now,
but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy,
and that joy no one shall take from you.
When that day comes,
you will not ask me any questions.’
Do not be afraid to speak out, nor allow yourself to be silenced: I am with you.
So often we look up to great orators, charismatic leaders and speakers, and admire them for their gift of inspiring and persuading with commanding speeches. Rarely do we celebrate the ones who know when silence is instead the greatest gift needed for the moment. I know I do.
In the first reading today, the Lord tells Paul, one of our greatest evangelists and one whom we know for his wonderful letters, to not be afraid to allow himself to be silenced. When I first read that, I misunderstood that God had asked him to not allow himself to be silenced. It is so much easier to think that must be the case when it comes to defending one’s faith and evangelizing God.
Instead, we see Paul completely quiet in this episode of accusation by the Jews who plotted to bring him down in front of Gallio, the proconsul of Achaia. Paul had no chance to retort, as before he could open his mouth to defend or explain himself, Gallio silenced not only him, but also the Jews who accused him.
Sometimes silence is wiser than speaking, listening more healing than words, quietness more empowering than ideas. This can happen in all sorts of settings – from official and professional situations, to private and personal moments.
Henri Nouwen once wrote, ‘somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.’ I have lost count of the many times when my silence and humble observation has saved me, and when my brashness or confidence has cost me belated anxiety and anguish.
At the same time, we would do well to seek the gift of wise silence from God, and to exercise more silence in our spiritual journey. I noticed that when I am out of sorts and not at peace with myself, my prayers become anxious chatters bouncing off the inner walls of my head. I may think that I have spent time in prayer, but actually I had been gratifying my inner voice and justifications, instead of being truly present to the Lord.
Again, Nouwen cautions us, “the real ‘work’ of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me. To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear the voice of blessing – that demands real effort.”
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
Prayer: We seek the gift of silence, and the gift of wisdom, to know when to practice this powerful instrument of peace.
Thanksgiving: Heavenly Father, thank you for listening to my chattering noise, and revealing to me that your gentle silence is often the greatest gift I need in my prayer.