Five weeks ago we began reading through the Acts of the Apostles. This is the book that is used for the first reading at Mass during the Easter season.
by looking for hope in the book. Then, four weeks ago
, we looked for joy. Three weeks ago
, we saw how the Holy Spirit gives us power, two weeks ago
, we saw how the Church grew because the disciples were not afraid to proclaim the Good News, and last week
, we saw how, despite the many obstacles, they persevered in their mission.
Last week, we read chapters 14 and 15 and started chapter 16. At this point, St. Paul has already completed his first journey and we begin to meet new characters.
You will have noticed that the Book of Acts is divided into three sections. First we see how the Church is formed after Pentecost. Then we follow St. Peter and see how the Church begins to grow from a simple Jewish sect into a group that are called "Christians". This happens because the message of Christianity was not limited to the Jewish people. In fact, most of the new Christians (at least as we meet them while reading Acts) were not Jewish but Gentiles (I would say that also because the centre of Christianity moved from Jerusalem to Antioch).
Last, the story follows the adventures of St. Paul.
This week, we continue in chapter 16. As we read along, see how many new people we come across.
I’ll highlight them to make it easier.
Let’s begin. Get your Bible and open it to the Acts of the Apostles.
On Monday, we pick up exactly where we left off last Saturday. Paul has begun his second journey, this time with Silas
(remember he had a falling out with Barnabas
, who went off on a separate journey with Mark
). Apparently, Luke
is also with Paul since the reading begins: “We set sail from Troas...”
They are headed for Macedonia. They arrive in Philippi, where they meet Lydia
, and she and her whole household become believers (Acts 16:11-15).
On Tuesday, we find Paul and Silas in prison after a confrontation with the owners of a fortune-telling slave girl who was possessed. At midnight, Paul and Silas are praying and singing, and suddenly there is an earthquake and their chains fall off. When the jailer
wakes up and sees the prison doors open, he is about to kill himself thinking that the prisoners had escaped, but Paul prevents it, since they had remained in the prison. The jailer then converts with his whole household (Acts 16:22-34).
On Wednesday, we skip ahead a few verses. After the incident in Philippi, the group left for Thessalonica where Paul and Silas preached at the synagogue. Again, there were many new believers, but the Jewish authorities incited a mob against them. The mob did not find Paul and Silas. Instead they brought Jason
, in whose house they were staying, to the magistrates. The disciples led Paul and Silas out of the city and into Beroea. Here, again, Paul and Silas preached at the synagogue, and this time there was no opposition from the Jews. But the Jews from Thessalonica came and caused a commotion. Paul left for Athens, but Timothy and Silas stayed behind.
This is where the story picks up on Wednesday. In Athens, Paul goes into the Aeropagus, the Athenian court, and preaches one of his most famous sermons about the “unknown God”. There are some new believers, among them Dionysius
(Acts 17:15, 22-18:1).
On Thursday (if you did not celebrate the Feast of the Ascension), we learn that Paul leaves Athens and goes to Corinth where he meets Aquila
and his wife, Priscilla
. They had been forced to move from Rome because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul stays with them. Silas and Timothy arrive, and Paul continues to preach to the Jews until they begin to oppose him and he moves on to preach to the Gentiles in Corinth (Acts 18:1-8).
On Friday, we learn that Paul stayed in Corinth for a whole year. At one point the Jews bring Paul to the proconsul, who turns them away, stating that this has nothing to do with him. The angry crowds seize Sosthenes
, the synagogue official and (not quite sure why) beat him up. (We later find out that Paul writes the first Letter to the Corinthians together with “our brother Sosthenes”
. Same guy?) After some time Paul leaves Corinth and sails to Syria.
Finally, on Saturday, we learn that after being in Antioch for a while, Paul leaves on his third journey, this time to Galatia. We then learn about a Jew named Apollos
, who is preaching about Jesus although he only knows about the baptism of John. Priscilla and Aquila hear him and take him aside to “explain the Word of God to him more accurately”. Apollos then becomes a successful preacher (Acts 18-23-38).
And so, the Church is not just one of Peter, James, and John and the other nine. It’s not even the Church of Matthias, who replaced Judas as one of the Twelve (and whose feast we celebrated on May 14), or of Stephen or Philip and the other seven deacons, or any of the other disciples who actually knew Jesus.
With St. Paul we enter into our era of the Church: The Church of people who did not personally know Christ.
And so we have have Luke and Mark (were they disciples of Jesus?). We have Barnabas, Silas, and Timothy. We have Lydia, Jason, Dionysius, and Damaris. We have some unnamed characters like the jailer. There are also Priscilla and Aquila, Sosthenes, and finally Apollos.
I encourage you to do a google search on any or all of these people and I trust that you will not be disappointed at what you will find.
Something else that has changed is that these people are not named merely as converts, but they are companions and collaborators. They are disciples who are now preaching the Word to others.
They are continuing the Mission that was given to the Twelve.
Scholars estimate that Paul arrived in Galatia (his third journey) close to the year 60 AD. That’s almost 30 years after the Resurrection. This is around the same time that the Gospel of Mark was written. I wonder what the statistic would have been had the Apostle been keeping track. I would love to know how many people were reached in those first 30 years of the Church. How many Christians were there in the year 60 AD? No one knows, but there are experts who estimate that by the year 150, there were some 40,000 Christians around the world.
For me, this week is not just about how the Church continued to grow but how it spread like a virus spreads: one person can reach one or two others; those two can then reach four or six; those six will reach 12 and so on. I am also amazed at how once disciples were made, it was clear that their mission to make other disciples was to continue. Right from the beginning it was evangelization 101: Tell others about this wonderful thing you’ve discovered! It continues to be as simple as that today.
I guess that’s the work of the Holy Spirit.
Come back next week.
We will find more hope, joy, acts of power, growth, and perseverance and meet more and more new characters in the Book of Acts.
Every week, Deacon Pedro takes a particular topic apart, not so much to explore or explain the subject to its fullness, but rather to provide insights that will deepen our understanding of the subject. And don’t worry, at the end of the day he always puts the pieces back together. There are no limits to deaconstructing: Write to him and ask any questions about the faith or Church teaching: firstname.lastname@example.org