“I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in me through their word …” (John 17:20).
If you want an example of provocative evangelization, consider St. Boniface (675-754) cutting down the sacred Oak of Thor to demonstrate that pagan gods don’t have any power. Or in today’s reading from Acts 22, St. Paul deliberately starts a battle between the Pharisees and Sadducees over the question of resurrection. It gets him rescued by the Roman commander in Jerusalem, who sends him to Rome to appeal his case to the emperor. There he will be executed under Nero. Boniface was martyred by the pagans as he carried out his missionary work in Germany.
There is no question that the Gospel is provocative. The message of compassion, reconciliation and radical nonviolence runs against the grain in a culture based on competition, consumption, hair-trigger politics and the use of force. Christians who oppose nuclear weapons, capital punishment and the draconian treatment of immigrants, minorities and poor people pay a high price for their counter-culture stances.
Jesus completes his farewell discourses in John 17 praying for all those who will follow his commandment to love their enemies and take up the mission of forgiveness and reconciliation. By their lives they will witness that he came from God, the source of all love. Anyone who encounters a faithful Christian will encounter Jesus, and whoever knows Jesus will know God.
This is evangelization. Pope Francis has highlighted the joy of the Gospel. What else could motivate so many people to start so much trouble and live such provocative lives?