Throughout the Easter season, which we began two weeks ago, the first reading at daily Mass is taken from the Acts of the Apostles. This is my favourite book of the Bible because I feel that it is our story: we are still living the Acts of the Apostles.
ago we began looking at those daily readings looking for hope in the book. The Acts of the Apostles are full of hope! Last week
we continued, this time looking for joy. Acts is the story of the Holy Spirit in the Church, and so of course we found lots of joy!
we also learned that Acts was written by a certain physician named Luke, believed to be the same Luke who was a travelling companion to St. Paul. He is the same Luke who wrote the Gospel of Luke. As with his Gospel, he writes Acts for a non-Jewish audience. This is why there is little to no reference to the Old Testament (compare with the Gospel of Matthew, for example). Luke is writing to Gentiles, which makes sense considering the Book of Acts tells the story of how the followers of Jesus Christ literally go “to the ends of the earth” to bring the Good News to the whole world.
The Gospel message begins with the Jews, but in Acts we see that it is for everyone else too.
There isn’t a clear consensus as to when Acts was written. There are scholars who say that it could have been as late as the year 125 AD. However, it is more likely that it was much earlier. The book begins with the Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and ends when St. Paul arrives in Rome. I have always wondered why it doesn’t continue with Paul’s experiences in Rome, ending with his execution. I have also always wondered why it doesn’t include St. Peter’s execution. The reason is likely that the book was written before these events took place – maybe even before St. Peter arrived in Rome. It is estimated that St. Paul was executed between 62 and 64 AD (the great fire of Rome under Nero that led to a major Christian persecution was in 64 AD), and so we can probably assume that Luke is writing the story around the year 62 AD. He describes the events up until the current time.
If Luke does not make much reference to the Old Testament, he does to the Gospel. One of the purposes of his writing is to make the connection between the work of Christ before his Ascension and the work of Christ and his followers after the Ascension. This is important to keep in mind. You will always see that the miracles and wonderful events that take place in the Book of Acts are always attributed to Christ – as we saw with the healing of the crippled man last week.
So, let’s continue.
Get your Bible and open it to the Acts of the Apostles and read along.
So far we have read from chapter 2 to chapter 5. This week we will continue with chapter 6.
Last Saturday, the readings were different because April 25 is the Feast of St. Mark. However, on a different year, the first reading for the Saturday of the 2nd week of Easter would have been Acts 6:1-7, a continuation of the day before.
This the story of the first deacons, and we meet St. Stephen and St. Philip for the first time.
We also learn that already there were some difficulties in the early Church. Some early Christians did not seem to completely understand how inclusive and compassionate the Gospel message is. As a result, there were a group of people who were being marginalized, in particular, the Greek-speaking Jewish widows. Under normal circumstances, the Hebrew Jews would have neglected these foreigners, even if they were Jews. But our attitude as Christians needs to be different. Because of this, the Apostles ordain seven men as deacons and give them the specific task of bringing the “daily distribution” (remember that they shared all things in common) to the Hellenist Jewish widows.
On Monday we begin the story of the martyrdom of St. Stephen.
Even though the deacons were given a specific task to serve, it is clear that they also were great preachers and heralds of the Gospel. This preaching leads Stephen into hot water with the Jewish authorities (Acts 6:8-15). Then, on Tuesday, Stephen continues to preach, filled with the Holy Spirit and is led out of the city and stoned to death. Here is where we first meet a young man named Saul (Acts 7:51-8:1a). On Wednesday, we learn how this leads to a severe persecution in Jerusalem, which scatters early Christians into Samaria and the Judean countryside. Saul is very much into this persecution. But still, we learn that Philip, another deacon, is preaching the Word and expelling demons and healing the sick in Samaria (Acts 8:1b-8). On Thursday, Philip goes off to Gaza where he meets an Ethiopian eunuch who was a court official of the Ethiopian Queen Candace. The eunuch wants to understand Scripture. Philip opens the Word for him and baptizes him (Acts 8:26-40) – a great example of the ministry of the diaconate! Friday brings us back to Saul as he is on his way to Damascus “breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord”.
He meets Jesus on the road. He is blinded and led into Damascus where a man named Ananias is sent to him to open his eyes and baptize him. I think we are well acquainted with that story (Acts 9:1-20). Saturday takes us back to St. Peter who is also doing great things in many places. He goes to Lydda and heals a man named Aeneas and then he goes to Joppa and brings a woman disciple named Tabitha (Dorcas), who had died, back to life (Acts 9:31-42).
This is a week where we see the Work being ramped up. This is how the Holy Spirit works. I can think back to Acts 1:8 where Jesus, before his Ascension, tells the apostles, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
This is exactly what is happening. Forget about the Jewish authorities and persecution, there is work to be done. In fact, it seems that it is with the death of St. Stephen that the real work begins. It is true that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. This week we see Stephen, Philip, Ananias, and Peter doing great works with power. They speak with authority, and they act with power.
This is the power of the Holy Spirit.
All of us have this power as all of us have received the Holy Spirit.
This week, as you go through chapters 6 through 9 of the Book of Acts, remember that not only does Jesus Christ bring us hope and joy, through His Spirit, He also gives us power.
This Easter season, as we approach the great Feast of Pentecost, let’s remember that with the Spirit comes great power. It’s easy to forget because we are not healing the sick and expelling demons, but we have great power to bring about good in the world.
If you find that you forget it, read the Book of Acts and you will find the power of the Holy Spirit.
Come back next week
so we can continue looking for hope, joy, and power 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]