Six weeks ago, we began this adventure through the Acts of the Apostles, and we have followed the readings at daily Mass during the whole season of Easter.
by looking for hope. Then, five weeks ago
, we looked for joy. Four weeks ago
, we saw how the Holy Spirit gives us power, and three weeks ago
, we saw how the Church grew because of some great proclamation of the Good News. Two weeks ago
, we saw how, despite the many obstacles, the disciples persevered in their mission, and last week
we saw how important it is to have companions on this journey.
Today we will see more of all of this as we read (quickly) through the last 10 chapters of the book: chapters 19-28.
There’s a lot going on in these chapters, and of course, there is no way that everything is covered in the readings at Mass, so I encourage you to read the bits that are missing (I’ll give you very brief summaries). This is the part of Acts that has all the good, dramatic stuff great films are made of: riots, beatings, arrests, lies, defense trials, proclamations, exorcisms, healings, imprisonment, visions, storms, and shipwrecks.
This is indeed the final journey. This is what it’s all about: bringing the Good News to the ends of the earth and to the centre of western civilization: Rome!
Let’s begin. Get your Bible and open it to the Acts of the Apostles.
On Monday, Paul goes to Ephesus, where he teaches some believers about the Holy Spirit. He lays his hands on them, and they receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-8).
On Tuesday, we skip ahead to chapter 20. Paul has been in Ephesus for 2 years, during which many amazing supernatural events took place. Paul survived a riot after an issue with silversmiths who created images of the Greek goddess Artemis. He also brought back to life Eutychus, a young man in Philippi who had fallen asleep during Paul’s sermon and fell out of a third story window. Paul is returning to Jerusalem but stops in Miletus to say goodbye to all the presbyters of the church at Ephesus. On Tuesday, we read part of Paul’s tearful goodbye speech to them (Acts 20:17-27).
On Wednesday, we continue with the goodbye speech (Acts 20:28-38).
On Thursday, we skip ahead to Chapter 22. Paul has returned to Jerusalem and met with James
(the Less, the son of Alphaeus and head of the Church there). He was then attacked by Jews at the Temple and beaten as they tried to kill him. The Roman commander arrested him in order to save him. This is where we pick up the story on Thursday. The commander sends him to the Jewish council to see what the accusations against Paul are. Paul cleverly pits the Pharisees against the Sadducees, who do not believe in the resurrection. The dispute is so serious that again the commander has to remove Paul and keep him under arrest. The reading ends with a moving scene in which Jesus appears to Paul and encourages him, promising that he will bear witness in Rome (Acts 22:30, 23:6-11).
On Friday, we skip to chapter 25. There was a plot to kill Paul, but thanks to Paul’s nephew (Did you know he had a sister? See Acts 23:16.), the plot was foiled and Paul was shipped north to Caesarea where the Roman governor, Felix, lived. Felix found nothing to charge Paul with, but Paul stayed in captivity in Caesarea with him for two years. Felix was then replaced by Festus, who wanted to send Paul back to Jerusalem to face his accusers. Paul, a Roman citizen, appealed to Caesar, and so Festus promised to send him to Rome as soon as possible. On Friday, we learn that Festus invites the Jewish King Agrippa and his sister Bernice to meet Paul (Acts 25: 13b-21).
Finally, on Saturday, we skip the whole journey (and a lot of the good adventure stuff) to Rome and go straight to chapter 28. Once in Rome, Paul is allowed to live by himself with the soldier who was guarding him. He meets with the Jews in Rome, as he always does when arriving anywhere. In a little portion that is not part of the Saturday reading, we learn that many of the Jews rejected his message and Paul proclaimed, “Let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts 28:28). At the end of the book, we learn that Paul stayed in those lodgings in Rome for two years and “proclaimed the kingdom of God to all who came to him and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28: 16-20,-30-31).
A lot happens in these chapters, but it’s clear that it is all part of God’s plan to bring Paul to Rome.
Notable for me in these chapters is that we learn that the day that Paul and the disciples gathered for worship and the breaking of the bread was on the first day of the week, Sunday (Acts 20:7). Also, even though we read in 9:2 about the “followers of the Way”, it is in this section where it’s clear that Christians were called followers of The Way
(Acts 19:9 ; 19:23; 24:14; 24:22).
There is no way to know with certainty what happened to Paul during those years in Rome. Did he have to stay in Rome? Did he travel to Spain as was his plan (see Romans 15:23)? Some scholars believe that he did. He would have then traveled to some of the same places – Miletus, Crete, Philippi, Thessalonica – before being arrested again and taken back to Rome and kept at the famed Mamertine Prison until he was finally executed.
This is possible since those same scholars estimate that Paul arrived in Rome in 60 AD but wasn’t martyred until 64 AD. There is also a beautiful tradition that St. Peter would have arrived in Rome around the same time and that Paul and Peter would have met – maybe even been imprisoned together – before they were both executed.
St. Paul is, after Jesus Christ, the one person most responsible for the spread and growth of the early Church.
Reading through Acts, it is clear that God’s plan was that salvation would come from the Jews but was intended for everyone. The only way it could reach everyone was if it spread west to Rome. I don’t think the outcome would have been the same had Paul decided (ignoring the promptings of the Holy Spirit) to go east instead of west. Rome was the centre of the known world and certainly the greatest world power at the time. It is also clear that the outcome would have been very different had Christianity not come into contact with Greek philosophy. We can credit Paul for that!
Six years after Paul’s martyrdom, Rome destroys Jerusalem, bringing an end to Jewish Temple worship and scattering the Jews all over the world. The centre of Christianity had already moved to Antioch, and already there were Christians all over, from Alexandria through Syria, Crete, Macedonia, and Greece. And we know, because of Priscilla and Aquila, that they were also in Rome from around 50 AD (the Letter of Paul to the Romans, which was written around 58 AD).
It didn’t take long, despite the severe persecution of Christians that followed for the next two hundred years, for the centre of Christianity to move to Rome. We know that after Peter, Linus was Bishop of Rome from 67 AD. He was succeeded by Cletus in 76 AD, who was succeeded by Clement in 88 AD. The rest is history.
And it all began with the initial laying on of hands, as Paul, Peter, James, and the others appointed elders and overseers in the churches they founded. Thanks to them, you and I can continue the work of Acts, today.
Come back next week
for some final thoughts on 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]