Change of guard-Thursday, 4th Week in Easter, Acts 13:13-25
Just to recap where we are. A great persecution has broken out in Jerusalem under King Herod, who had James the apostle beheaded. So pleased was he with the response of the Jewish authorities that he had Peter imprisoned with the intention of killing him too. But that night, while the Church prayed for Peter, an angel of the Lord released him and he took refuge in the home of the mother of St (John) Mark (the evangelist) and later went to Caesarea. Herod soon met his fate and was struck down by the Lord.
In all of this, Saul and Barnabas left Antioch for Jerusalem, taking with them John, who’s other name, was Mark (the evangelist). Remaining in Antioch were prophets and teachers (13:1) who, while in prayer, were instructed by the Holy Spirit to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the mission to Seleucia, Cyprus, Salamis and Paphos. After completing this mission they finally arrived in Perga in Pamphylia where after traveling due north into the interior for over a hundred miles, our pericope for today brings Paul and Barnabas to the city of Antioch in Pisidia.
As I said before, there were several cities built by Seleucus Nicator (Greek ruler), and named after his father, Antiochus (Antioch). Under Augustus (Roman ruler), they had attracted a considerable Jewish population, among whom our missionaries had made many converts; and among the Gentiles, many proselytes. This explains the synagogue in Antioch where Paul and Barnabas arrive on the Sabbath.
At once you will realise that even though in Chapter 11:26 we are told they are “called Christians”, we can see that the Jewish character of the Early Church was firmly stuck with the apostle and disciples. Perhaps it was after the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem, that a clear break from worship in the synagogues took place.
There is also an interesting shift in the Church to be noted in today’s pericope. In Chapter 13:9 we are told that Saul is also known as Paul, and with this we see a change in the hierarchy of the Church. So far Barnabas has led the Church in mission; it was always Barnabas(first) and (then) Paul( Acts 11:30,12:25, 13:2 and 7), but now in 13:13 our pericope opens with a new leadership, “Paul and Barnabas” (see also 13:42,46,50 and also Acts 15:2, 22 and 35).
Was everything as tidy as we are made to imagine with this take over in the Church? Not really, for we are told right away that John Mark left for Jerusalem (he was Barnabas’ nephew and perhaps mad at the takeover), and while we may never know why he left, Acts 15:38 clearly indicates that Paul was sore with John Mark, for he considered Mark’s act as that of a “deserter”.
Now in Antioch, they arrive on the Sabbath to pray. The prayers were read while the people stood. This was followed by the reading of the Law in Hebrew by the reader, and the interpretation by the interpreter and then the reading and interpretation of the prophets, called the Haphtorah. Finally the Midrash or the exposition or sermon took place, which Paul undertook to preach at the invitation of the ruler of the synagogue.
Verse 17 to 25 constitutes the first part of the homily in which Paul wishes to introduce Jesus as Messiah. He does this ever so gently using the familiar categories that the Jews were used to. God, our ancestors, Egypt, forty years, destroyed the nations, gave them the land, gave them kings in Saul and David and now from that great line gave them a Saviour, Jesus.
Paul returns to the great purpose of Jesus’ mission that Peter expounded all through his speeches; namely that Christ came to call us to repentance and the same was also proclaimed by John the Baptizer.
As well-crafted as this presentation of the history of salvation may be, Paul also does not mince words; for Paul highlights the patience of God and the fickleness of man throughout salvation history. God had saved them from Egypt yet it was He who had “to put up” with the Israelites “for forty years in the wilderness” (verse18). It was He who gave them a king when they demanded for one, and in doing this, they rejected Yahweh. Yet God gave them this kingdom for four hundred and fifty years and gave them judges and prophets.
It is good for us to also look back at ‘our personal salvation history’ and see how much God has done for us, and often had to “put up with us”! Yet we demand more without being grateful.
Fr Warner D’Souza
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