Tag Archives: Paul the Apostle

St. Barnabas, June 11

Barnabas was closely associated with Paul the Apostle, according to the Acts of the Apostles. Barnabas was Paul’s sponsor. After his dramatic conversion, Paul preached in Damascus, but he was forced out of the city and went to Jerusalem where the disciples of Jesus received him warily. They “were all afraid of Paul” because he persecuted the followers of Jesus. Barnabas believed in him and “took charge of him and brought him to the apostles.” (Acts 9, 26-30)

Later, as great numbers came to believe in Antioch, the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas there and, convinced that the Spirit was at work, he went to Tarsus to get Paul. Together they spent a whole year and taught a large number of people. (Act 11, 26)

Then, Barnabas and Paul were commissioned by the church of Antioch to bring the gospel to other places. Their  missionary journey took them to Cyprus (Barnabas’ birthplace) and a number of cities in Asia Minor. They preached in Jewish synagogues with mixed results, but increasing numbers of gentile hearers accepted their message. The Acts of the Apostles highlights Paul’s preaching, but the ministry involved the two apostles. “They appointed presbyters for them in each church” and returned to Antioch. (Acts 14, 21-23)

A dispute arose between them: “After some time, Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Come, let us make a return visit to see how the brothers are getting on in all the cities where we proclaimed the word of the Lord.’ Barnabas wanted to take with them also John, who was called Mark, but Paul insisted that they should not take with them someone who had deserted them at Pamphylia and who had not continued with them in their work. So sharp was their disagreement that they separated. Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and departed after being commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. He traveled through Syria and Cilicia bringing strength to the churches.” Acts 15, 36-41

Why the “sharp disagreement?” Two strong personalities at odds? Paul’s vision against Barnabas’ vision? A clash like this reminds us that God’s plan advances even as humans disagree.

I find it strange, though, that Paul never mentions Barnabas in his later descriptions of his work. Barnabas, humanly speaking, got him his start.

The Voice of the Faithful

Apollos is mentioned  in Saturday’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles (18,23-28).   He reminds us that Peter, Paul and the other apostles were not the only teachers in the early church. Others brought the message of Christ to the cities and towns of the Roman Empire and Apollos was one of them.

He’s an eloquent, learned teacher who came to Ephesus from Alexandria, one of the great centers of Jewish and Christian learning, and drew a following by preaching about Jesus. But Apollos doesn’t know everything, so a Jewish couple, Priscilla and Acquila, “took him aside and explained to him the Way of God more accurately.”

They were disciples of Paul who supported  him by giving him some work in their tent business. They traveled with Paul and certainly listened to his teaching, but I don’t think they were ever considered teachers as he and Apollos were. They were considered “hearers of the word,” more likely. Well informed, for sure, but still among those we would call today “the faithful.”

Yet, let’s not forget what important teachers “the faithful” are, as Priscilla and Aquila remind us.

I remember a story a priest I knew, a brilliant teacher, told me long ago about a baptism he was conducting for an infant born to a member of his family. His father was the baby’s sponsor and according to the rite then was expected to recite the Creed.

“Can you say the Creed, Dad?” the priest said to his father.

“Who do you think taught it to you?,” the father sharply replied.

Faith can’t survive in this world without the faithful, ordinary Priscillas and Aquilas explaining it and  passing it on.

Paul’s Conversion

 

The dramatic conversion of Paul is recalled in today’s  first reading at Mass from the Acts of the Apostles. Luke describes this event three times, acknowledging Paul’s special  role in the spread of the church from Jerusalem to Rome.

Yet, Luke sees Paul’s conversion and ministry as a work of God, who uses the apostle for his own divine purposes. It’s not Paul’s genius or imagination that achieved so much. God’s grace brought him to the ground on his way to Damascus and sent him on his mission.

“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”  Jesus says to him. Their meeting caused Paul to be convinced that faith is a gift that justifies us and that the church is the body of Christ. He did not come to those beliefs on his own.

Paul’s great conversion story in Acts introduces a succession of stories recalling the conversion of the gentiles. Though Paul has a prominent part in these stories, he is still an agent whom God sends and constantly empowers.

The Acts of the Apostles is not just a description of the past;  it’s a template for the church of every age. Personalities like Paul and human factors play a part in her growth, but the church’s advance is not principally through human power, reason, or imagination. The power of God’s Spirit guides and supports it through time.

We need to pray and welcome it.

Weekday Readings: Third Week of Easter


Monday Acts 6,8-15; John 6,22-29
Tuesday Acts 7,58-8,1; John 6,30=35
Wednesday Acts 8,1-8; John 6,35-40
Thursday Acts 8,26-40; John 6,44-51
Friday Acts 9,1-20; John 6,52-59
Saturday Acts 9,31-42; John 6,60-69

The Mass readings this week continue from the Acts of the Apostles with the story of the Greek-speaking deacon Stephen. His fiery preaching against temple worship and “stiff-necked” Jewish opposition to Jesus results in his death and a persecution that drives Hellenist Christians out of Jerusalem. (Monday and Tuesday) But Stephen’s death, like the death of Jesus, brings new life. The church grows. “The death of Christians is the seed of Christianity.” (Tertullian )

Philip the Deacon, one of those displaced, preaches to the Samaritans north of Jerusalem. Then, led by the Spirit, he converts the Ethiopian eunuch returning home after his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. (Wednesday and Thursday} Following Philip’s activity, Paul, the persecutor, is converted by Jesus himself. (Friday)

Before Paul’s ministry begins, Peter leaves Jerusalem to bless the new Christian communities near the coast; at Joppa he’s told by God to meet the Roman centurion in Caesarea Maritima. The mission to the gentile world begins with that meeting. (Saturday)

Stephen, Philip, Peter and Paul serve God’s mysterious plan. It’s not human planning. The Holy Spirit is at work.

The gospel readings this week are from St.John’s gospel– segments of Jesus’ long discourse on the Bread of Life to the crowd at Capernaum after the miracle of the loaves. (John 6) In the Eucharist we meet the Risen Christ.  He not only feeds us personally, but a growing church is fed.

Timothy and Titus

Timothy and Titus were companions of St.Paul on his missionary journeys and he saw them continuing his mission. Timothy was given leadership of the church at Ephesus; Titus assumed leadership of the church in Crete. We have Paul’s letters to them: two letters to Timothy and one letter to Titus.

Like Jesus, Paul never saw himself acting alone; he looked for others to share his ministry and continue it; that’s why we celebrate the feast of Timothy and Titus on January 26th, the day after the feast of Paul’s conversion.

Some mistakingly consider Paul the founder of the Christian faith rather than Jesus. He’s not. Yes, he’s a strong personality, as his letters and missionary journeys make clear, but his faith came from the Risen Christ, who revealed himself to him through the scriptures and heavenly signs.
The church isn’t his or Peter’s church or Apollo’s; it’s the church of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, Paul says. 

Serve the church, he urges Timothy and Titus. Be “slaves of Christ,” like him they are “not to be served, but to serve.” ( Philippians 1,1)
Be shepherds to the whole flock in your care, Paul says. The old, the young, men and women, the sick and the well– all belong to the church. Jesus Christ came to love and care for them all. Be like Jesus to them.

Still true for ministers in the church today, isn’t it?

The church given into the care of Timothy and Titus was a church in transition. Paul and the other apostles were ending their work; the roles of bishops, priests and other ministries begin to evolve. The notes in the New American Bible–always worth reading–point to the changing nature of these offices as Timothy and Titus take on the work of Paul, now a prisoner in Rome.

Timothy and Titus were given “apostolic virtues” by God to continue the work of Paul and the other apostles, the opening prayer of their feast says. May we “merit to reach our heavenly homeland” by “living justly and devoutly in this present age.” Now it’s our turn to continue what they did: “Go into all the world, and proclaim the gospel. I am with you always, says the Lord.”

Like the two followers of Paul, we have to hold on to what we were given by the apostles and bring that gift to our world.

I see in American Bible notes that the deacons Paul refers to in I Timothy 3, 8-13 may include women as well as men. “This (deacons) seems to refer to women deacons, but may possibly mean the wives of deacons. The former is preferred because the word is used absolutely…”

Why not today? We need women in roles of leadership. I have some in mind who would fit the role very well.

God doesn’t demonize

We’re reading Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians and the Gospel of Matthew this week at Mass. The letter was written about the year 55 AD, 20 years or so after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew was written about the year 85 AD, some 40 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Paul’s letters reflect his custom to go first into Jewish synagogues to preach the gospel as a follower of Jesus. Before his conversion, he went to the synagogues as a Pharisee to pursue and arrest Christians. Now he faced those from the Pharisaic movement sharply confronting him..

The Gospel of Matthew reflects this same antagonism and confrontation. Matthew’s gospel was written at a highpoint of Jewish-Christian controversy, after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.  Read only passages from the 23rd chapter of Matthew’s gospel you would think that the Pharisees were Jesus’ fiercest enemies.

In reality, a number of Pharisees became his most important followers, like Nicodemus and Paul himself. The Pharisees were certainly antagonistic to him in his lifetime; Jesus was angry with them for their blindness to him and his message. But did he see them as mortal, eternal enemies? No, he didn’t.

We have to read the scriptures with an eye on the time they were written and the audience they were written for. It helps us understand the hot rhetoric we hear in Matthew’s reading for today.

Can we learn a lesson from readings like these? Be careful not to demonize your enemies. God doesn’t do that and neither should we.

That’s an important lesson to remember today as we look at the Muslim world and controversy building up between them and us. Jesus didn’t demonize people; he turned to the thief on the cross, he told the story of a prodigal son, he received back the disciples who abandoned him.,

When we bring the bread and wine to the altar at Mass, we bring all of creation, not just a part of it, for God to receive. “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,” we say. All creation is God’s creation. He wishes to bless it and see it at peace and harmony. God wishes us to see things as he see them.

God doesn’t demonize.

Is Our World Sharing in the Sufferings of Christ?

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For the next two weeks at Mass we’re reading St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, a Christian community in the city of Corinth around the year 50, shortly after the time of Jesus. Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians are favorite sources of information for historians studying the early Christian church. They also offer us a way to reflect on our own church today.

In the easter season we read from the Acts of the Apostles– St. Luke’s overview of the early Christian church. Beginning with the gospel preached in Jerusalem and ending with its reception in Rome, Luke describes its growth after the resurrection of Jesus mainly through the activity of Peter and Paul.

Now, we turn in our lectionary to the church at Corinth, a early church founded by Paul. What was it like?

Drawn from the different peoples flocking to the great Mediterranean port, the community at Corinth was diverse, and a variety of preachers and teachers attracted its members, causing some division, noticeably as they came together to “break bread.” There’s some sexual immorality in this church, close to the open sea. Some were wondering about the resurrection of Jesus.

This is a church no longer mostly Jewish, though some may have missed the stability a Jewish synagogue brought, despite disagreements over Jesus. As yet there was no bishop administering this church for Paul to contact and work with. He was an apostle, a preacher to the world, speaking as a disciple of Jesus.

Clearly, this is a church  “in the works,” not complete, with glaring weaknesses, struggling to grow in faith, with plenty of loose ends, looking for answers. It’s a church experiencing great change. It’s a church suffering, not from outward persecution, but from turmoil within.

Is this a church like our own?

As he speaks to the Corinthians, Paul sees their sufferings first, which he describes as “Christ’s sufferings”. He’s experiencing that mystery himself, and in the opening chapters of the Second Letter to the Corinthians (which unfortunately are not well represented in our lectionary) Paul begins with that mystery and returns to it over and over.

Yes, there are problems to be faced, corrections must be made, restructuring must take place, but Paul keeps reminding them they are experiencing the sufferings of Christ. With Christ’s suffering, Paul writes, comes his encouragement.

The sufferings of Christ and the encouragement of Christ. Paul knew them both. Preaching in the province of Asia with some companions, “We were utterly weighed down beyond our strength, so that we despaired of life.”  But with the sufferings came an overflowing encouragement, which inevitably accompanies the sufferings of Christ. “We do not trust in ourselves but in God who raises from the dead.” ( 2 Corinthians 1, 5-11)

Can we see in Paul’s way the right way, the first way, to look at our church and our world today? We’re tempted to quickly stand in judgment, to analyze, to condemn, even to throw up our hands and lose hope in the world around us. Do we need to remember the sufferings of Christ, a mystery that falls on all, and the “encouragement” that always accompanies this mystery?

Listen to Paul speaking to the struggling Corinthians:

“Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement,”

Good letter for us to read these days.

“In your wrath, remember compassion.”