One thing you’ll notice when you read through Acts is that the early Church was not perfect.
This week we continue reading through the Acts of the Apostles. We began four weeks ago
, on the Monday after Easter Sunday, by looking for hope in the book. Then, three weeks ago
, we looked for joy. Two weeks ago
, we saw how the Holy Spirit gives us power, and last week
, we saw how the early Church began to grow because the early disciples were not afraid to proclaim the Good News.
It’s good to read the Book of Acts and find the same stories or references in Paul’s Letters. While the author of Acts, Luke, may try to emphasize the harmony of the early Church, Paul doesn’t, so it’s a good balance. Let’s not believe for a second that right from the beginning, even while Jesus was still alive, there weren't disagreements, confusion, and dissent, not to mention malicious attacks, division, and deceitful behaviour.
We will see some of this as we continue with chapter 14.
Get your Bible and open it to the Acts of the Apostles and read along.
Last Saturday, we left off with Paul and Barnabas on their first journey. Paul got up to preach at the synagogue in Antioch in Pisidia. It went so well that the following Sabbath the whole city showed up to hear him preach. The Jews did not like this and began to challenge Paul and what he was saying. Paul and Barnabas decide to preach to the Gentiles instead. The Jewish leaders incited a persecution against them and so they “shook the dust from their feet”
and headed to Iconium. This is where we find them on Monday this week: Again, Paul and Barnabas had begun their preaching at the synagogue. Again, many came to believe, both Jews and Greeks, but again, certain Jews were not happy. The reading for Monday begins: “There was an attempt ... to attack and stone Paul and Barnabas.”
They flee and go to Lystra and Derbe, where they continue preaching the Good News. In Lystra, Paul heals a crippled man, and the people begin to acclaim them as gods. No matter what Paul and Barnabas say or do, the people try to offer sacrifices to them (Acts 14:5-18). On Tuesday, we find out that Jews from Antioch and Iconium arrive and turn the crowds against Paul and Barnabas. Paul is stoned and left for dead. The disciples gather around him, and he gets up and goes right back into the city. The next day they leave for Derbe. After proclaiming and making many disciples in Derbe, they return to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch in order to exhort the believers there. They appoint presbyters (priests) in each of the churches and then move on through the region of Pisidia. Finally, they return to Syrian Antioch (north of Jerusalem) where the Church is based (Acts 14:19-28). On Wednesday, we learn the reason for the first Church council: The Council of Jerusalem. There were Jewish converts who were preaching that in order to be followers of Jesus Christ, men had to be circumcised. This moved Paul and Barnabas to return to Jerusalem to meet with the Apostles in order to answer the question (Acts 15:1-6). On Thursday, the matter is resolved (they do not have to be circumcised, by the way - Acts 15:7-21), and on Friday, Paul and Barnabas are sent with other companions back to Antioch to deliver the decision (the Church's first "exhortation") from the Council (Acts 15:22-31).
On Saturday, we skip ahead to Paul’s second journey. But you must read what happens before then. Paul was eager to start this second journey, and Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark with them. Paul refused to bring someone who had deserted them (remember the reading from Thursday last week, Acts 13:13-25?), and the disagreement was bad enough that Paul decided to go without Barnabas. Barnabas went off with Mark, and Paul began traveling with Silas. Once the journey (and the reading for Saturday) begins, we learn that Paul returns to Derbe and Lystra, where he meets Timothy (the guy to whom he writes the two Epistles). Timothy joins them, and off they go through Galatia. We learn how the Holy Spirit prevents them from going into certain regions and inspires them to go to others, and then, after Paul receives a vision, they go to Macedonia (Acts 16:1-10).
This week we see how, right from the start, there is division in the Church.
There is opposition from outside of the Church, but there is also division within the Church. But no matter the obstacles, the disciples persevere. That is a lesson we must remember today. There are always obstacles in life. Having faith is not easy. Our beliefs are constantly being challenged. There are obstacles to evangelization. If we want to be followers of Christ, we will be persecuted and crucified.
But we must persevere.
We also learn a very important lesson about what it means to be Church. When there is division, we must look to the institutional Church for guidance. When the question of circumcision arose, Paul did not make a decision on his own; he went to meet with the Church leadership in Jerusalem. The Word of God through the Holy Spirit resides in the Church, and this Word is reflected through the Teachings of the Church. We also learn how the Church defines Teaching: When there is confusion, the Church has to clarify. This is how Teaching is defined. This is how the Church continues to define her Magisterium to this day.
And to this day, even though the Church is much larger and things are more complicated, the Church continues to be guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit.
You may want to learn more about that by reading Deacon-structing: The Voice of Christ
Come back next week
. We will find more reasons for hope and joy, see more acts of power, discover how the Church continues to grow, and learn how, despite the many obstacles, the disciples continue to persevere in proclaiming the Good News, 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: [email protected]