Notes for reflection on Acts 13-14

Notes for Reflection on Paul and Barnabas Acts 13 -14

Five men who were prophets and teachers in Antioch. Paul and Barnabas were among them.

Navarre – in the early Church teachers were disciples well versed in Scripture, who were given charge of catechesis.They instructed the catechumens and the Christians in basic teach of the Gospel as given by the Apostles. Some had a capacity for acquiring and communicating to others an extensive or profound knowledge of the faith.

Preaching was reserved for ordained ministers.

Teachers responsible for ongoing doctrinal and moral education, must lead a virtuous life

“I do nothing but hand on what was given me by those who made themselves worthy disciples of the truth – Letter to Diogenes

To say “they were worshipping” refers primarily to celebration of the Eucharist which “causes the Church of God to be built up” – Vatican II

The Eucharist is associated with the start of this new stage of Church expansion

Paul and Barnabas receive a missionary task directly from the Holy Spirit – it is as if God were repeatedly ratifying his salvific plans – He is ever faithful

This task is also ecclesial in that the Church sends them

“First prayer, then, atonement and in the third place, action” St. Josemaria Escriva

Their mission is not man-made and will produce results only with God’s help

The purpose of this prayer and fasting is to purify hearts and lips so that the Lord will be with them and none of their words “fall to the ground”.

Commentary – Paul had been in Tarsus for 10 years before Barnabas brought him to Antioch where they taught.

Paul preaches in the synagogue –(Navarre)

Sabbath services in synagogues went right back to post-exilic period and by now they had a very settled form. They consisted of readings from Sacred Scripture, preaching and public prayers. The president or rule of the synagogue could ask any member of the community to take the ceremony.

Paul’s address is an excellent example of the way he used to present the Gospel to a mixed congregation of Jews and proselytes. He lists the benefits conferred by God on the chosen people from Abraham down to John the Baptist. He then shows how all the messianic prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus and states that justification comes about through faith in Jesus, who died and rose from the dead.

The speech contains all the main themes of apostolic preaching – God’s saving initiative in history of Israel, reference to the Precursor, proclamation of the Gospel, mention of Jerusalem, arguments from Sacred Scripture and a final exhortation, eschatological in character, announcing the future.

Paul does not back off from telling his listeners about the cross and Jesus’ painful death. The truth is shocking and hurtful, but it is true and what brings salvation.

Through Jesus’ death on the cross we can see how much God loved us and consequently we can feel moved to love him with our whole heart and with all our strength. Only the cross of our Lord, an inexhaustible source of grace, can make us holy.

The opposition of these Jews, who in their jealousy contradict what Paul says, will from now be the typical attitude of the synagogue to the Gospel.

Paul may have been hoping that Christianity would flourish on the soil of Judaism, that the Jews would peacefully accept the Gospel as the natural development of God’s plan.

The evangelization of the pagan world is not a consequence of Jewish rejection of the Word; it is required by the universal character of Christianity. To all men Christianity is the only channel of saving grace; it perfects the Law of Moses and reaches out beyond the ethnic and geographical frontiers of Judaism.

The Word of God is a direct, personal call to which man cannot adopt an indifferent or passive attitude. He has to take sides, whether he likes it or not; and in fact he does take sides. Many people who persecute or criticise the Church and christians are often trying to justify their own personal infidelity and resistance to God’s grace.

Jews rent their garments to symbolize their feelings of shock at something they heard and to reject it out of hand.

Everyday experience – the course of human history, the changing seasons, and the fulfilment of noble human yearnings – demonstrates the providence of a God who invites people to find him in his works. This first “natural” encounter with God, presaging future and greater revelations, stirs their conscience to interior conversion, that is, to change their lives and turn away from any action who prevents them from knowing God. Acknowledging that God exists involves all kinds of practical consequences and is the foundation of the new type of life which the Gospel proposes and makes possible.

When a person truly and sincerely recognizes his Creator as speaking to him through external things and in the intimacy of his conscience, he has taken a huge step in his spiritual life; he has controlled his tendency to assert moral autonomy and false independence and has taken the path of obedience and humility

St Paul is not cowed by persecution and physical suffering. He knows that this crisis is the prelude to abundant spiritual fruit. The Gospel met with acceptance everywhere and also with opposition. The apostles have no difficulty in pointing to events to show the disciples that suffering and difficulties form part of Christian living.

“Cross, toil, anguish: such will be your lot as long as you live. That was the way Christ went, and the disciple is not above his master.” St. Josemaria Escriva

After four years Paul and Barnabas return to Antioch. Despite the animosity and persecution they experienced in these cities, the two do not avoid returning. They want to complete arrangements for the government of the new churches and to consolidate the faith of the disciples.

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Some things I thought about – how fiery and determined Paul was for Judaism before his calling by Christ and how determined and fiery he is for Christ once he was called.

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The method of evangelizing during those early days of the Church – this interested me in our readings this week. How different we evangelize today with the internet, facebook, twitter and other electronic products available to us. In the time of St. Paul the structure of Jewish society and its religious services were perfect for spreading the faith. As we have learned from our textbook and Scripture readings, the Temple services and weekly synagogue services were often attended by faithful Jews and also those Gentiles who were God fearing and were attracted to the moral and ethical laws of Judaism. Where would we go today to find a similar group of people who were genuinely seeking God, whose hearts were open to the movement of God’s grace? Would these “seekers” come to our Catholic Mass without being invited? Do they see in the behavior of Catholics something they would like to emulate?

I make lists, especially if I have to do something important like planning a trip or having a party. Even with my extensive lists, I always forget at least one thing. Either I am stopping at a pharmacy on the way to the airport, or I am sending my husband to the grocery store for that one necessity before our guests arrive. Why is planning so difficult? You would think at my age, I would have and do everything perfect! After all, I have my lists no matter how imperfect they are.

So as I studied chapters 13 and 14 in this week’s lesson, I began to see how God had planned everything – not just for the expansion and growth of the early Church, but EVERYTHING. Did He make a list ahead of time? Let’s see what it might be.

Call Abram to be my friend – check

Encourage Abram to migrate to Canaan – check

Change his name to Abraham – check

Bring forth Isaac from Sarai’s barren womb – check

Make Abraham the father of all believers through the Covenant I made with him – check

Build a community of people to follow Abraham and Isaac and their descendants – check

Rescue the descendents  of Abraham from slavery in Egypt – check

Form the descendents of Abraham into a nation during their wanderings in the desert – check

Renew the covenant with the people of Israel, the sons and daughters of Abraham – check

Give the people of Israel laws and customs which will stand the test of time – check

Promise to send a Messiah by the words given to the prophets of Israel – check

Send a final prophet to announce the Messiah’s coming – check

Form a family from which the Messiah will come – check

Send my Son to be the world’s Messiah – check

And so it went. Each item on God’s list is accomplished perfectly. It doesn’t matter if human history or behavior stands in God’s way or tries to thwart His designs. God always works with who and what He finds in our world to accomplish His will. 

God set up a society through which His Son would come, a society whose customs and faith drew others to it, whether or not those “others” accepted all the Jewish laws or not. These others accepted and honored this faith of the people of Abraham, attended the Temple and synagogue “services” and were present and listening with open ears and hearts when Paul, Barnabas and other missionaries came to speak. These “Gentiles” were open to the grace of God.

My lists often have items unchecked, either things I didn’t have the time to do or things I decided later were unnecessary. God’s lists – well, probably He doesn’t need the list I imagined. He just knows and accomplishes His perfect will effortlessly – or so it seems to me. 

And now we come to us –  and to a Church which has survived for 2000 years. God prepared everything for each one of us, for He knew us before we were formed in our mother’s womb. God has placed us in a family, in a Church, in a place where we can learn about Him and love Him. This perfect place God has provided for us is the place from which God will lead us home.

What an awesome God!

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Karen and I hope you are this lesson on Paul and Barnabas. What an adventure the two men had together! In Luke’s writings we have the sense that Luke is  just “hitting the high points”, leaving out a lot of details which we can imagine for ourselves. We see in these pages of Acts of the Apostles how the early Church was formed and spread. We witness some of the problems which evolved over time and the solutions which were prepared to solve those problems.

Acts 13:1-2 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

I studied Biology in college; my dad was an electrical engineer, as is my husband of 43 years, so when I read that the Holy Spirit “spoke” to someone, I want to know how exactly did He speak. I suppose my “need to know” comes from all those years in the company of men who were always trying to figure out the “how things worked” and the “why they worked”. 

If God wanted to send us a particular message, He could “text” or email us, or His voice could just come “booming” out of the clouds. Probably none of those ways was the method God chose in the case in Acts 13, because St. Luke would have told us. So how exactly did these five men in Antioch come to know that the Holy Spirit wanted Barnabas and Paul to go on a mission?

Barnabas and Paul did go on a mission – that much is clear. We have St. Luke’s account of this first mission of Barnabas and Paul. According to the commentary from the Navarre Bible, “worship of the Lord includes prayer, but it refers primarily to the celebration of the Eucharist, which is the centre of all Christian ritual…. The Eucharist provides a Christian with the nourishment he needs, and its celebration causes the Church of God to be build up and grow in stature.”

We are told by St. Luke that the men were praying – celebrating the Eucharist – and fasting. I have read that fasting is a powerful way of coming closer to God, of hearing His voice. I am pathetic when it comes to fasting, so I don’t know for sure. But I do imagine that after their prayer and fasting, the five men were talking with one another about the Antioch Church, how it was growing in love and faithfulness, how peaceful things had been for a time. At some point in the conversation, someone might have said “but are we fulfilling the Lord’s mission? The Antioch Church is doing just fine now. Didn’t Jesus tell us to go out to the whole world and spread His message of God’s love and forgiveness? How exactly are we doing that by just sitting here in Antioch?” As the conversation continued the idea of evangelizing in Barnabas’ home country, Cyprus, might have come up. Who better to send than Barnabas, who knew his country and its people? And who better to accompany Barnabas than Paul? After all, Paul had been “on fire” for God his whole life and seemed always eager to spread Jesus’ message.And he was younger and perhaps more vigorous than Barnabas.  As the conversation continued, plans were set as to the direction the missionaries would take. Funds were gathered and appropriated for the journey. Perhaps the whole Antioch Church met to pray for the mission and to “lay hands” on the two men and wish them “Godspeed”.

Is this how Paul and Barnabas’ mission came about? I don’t know, so don’t take my word for it. Think and pray about it yourself.

Catechism 858 – 859Jesus is the Father’s Emissary. From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus “called to him those whom he desired…And he appointed twelve, whom also he names apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach (Mk 3:13-14) From then on, they would also be his “emissaries”… In them, Christ continues his own mission. Jesus unites his emissaries to the mission he received from the Father… Christ’s apostles knew that they were called by God… as “ambassadors for Christ””.

Nearly 2000 years later Christ’s message of love and forgiveness has been spread to every corner of the world. But there is still much more to do, as our recent Popes have told us. Too many people who once followed Jesus have fallen away from the faith. Still others in our own culture are either ignorant of the real message or are antagonistic to it, thinking that the “rules” of the faith will keep them from doing what they want to do, that those rules will take away their freedom. When I was confirmed, so many years ago, I remember Bishop John Francis Dearden telling the confirmands that “we were called to be ambassadors for Christ”. So I wonder how the Holy Spirit is calling me to be that ambassador. Am I listening? Will I respond? How will I respond?

I have included a link to a Fr. Barron video for you to watch. The video lasts 12 minutes and was helpful to me, in that it showed me how to know if the Holy Spirit is in one’s life. Watch it if you have time, and if it interests you. It certainly isn’t required.

Remember that Karen and I are here to help you. Please contact us either by email or phone and let us know how you are doing. Some ladies in our group have not been able to come, often or at all, either through illness or other problems. Please keep these ladies and all of WCSS in your prayers.

Hugs and love,

Karen and Franciene

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