Thursday of Week 6 of Easter – First Reading

Note: This Mass, also known as ‘Thursday Before Ascension Sunday’, is celebrated in those countries where the feast of our Lord’s Ascension is moved to the Sunday of Week 7 of Easter. For the Ascension Day reflection, see this coming Sunday’s Scripture commentary.

Commentary on Acts 18:1-8

Paul now has moved to the city of Corinth in southern Greece. As we have already mentioned, compared to Athens, it did not at first sight seem a very promising missionary area, given its highly immoral reputation. But it did have a large Jewish community to which Paul – as was his custom – first directed his efforts. He always felt that, as God’s people, the religious Jews should be the first to hear the message of the Gospel.

Soon after he arrived he met a Jew named Aquila. Aquila was originally from Pontus, a province lying along the Black Sea between Bithynia and Armenia. But he had recently arrived from Italy with his wife, Priscilla, also a Jew. Priscilla is a diminutive form of Prisca, a name by which she is known in some of the Pauline letters. Since no mention is made of a conversion, and since they immediately became partners with Paul in his missionary work, we can presume they were already Christians. Very likely, they had converted while in Rome. Both of them were to become valuable assistants in his work.

They had had to leave Rome because the emperor Claudius (AD 41-54, around whom Robert Graves’ book I, Claudius is centred) had ordered all Jews to leave Rome around the year 49 or 50. The contemporary historian Suetonius gives as the reason “their [the Jews] continual tumults instigated by Chrestus” (a common misspelling of ‘Christ’). He presumably is referring to conflicts over Christ’s Messiahship between Jews and those who had become Christians. The order was effective, but did not last. Once again, Providence was guiding people unknowingly in Paul’s direction.

Like Paul himself, Aquila was a tent-maker. Paul moved in with this couple and joined them in their tent-making work. Paul was always proud of his trade and boasted that he supported himself by his own hands. Even though Paul more than once insisted on the missionary’s right to be supported by those among whom he evangelised, he himself insisted on supporting himself. He said that he did not want to be a burden on anyone, and it proved his singleness of purpose – he was no sponger. Only from the Christians of Philippi did he accept help. He recommended that his followers should imitate his example, supplying their own needs and taking care of the needy.

In the beginning, Paul went every Sabbath day to the synagogue and entered into discussions about Jesus Christ and the message of the Gospel:

Every Sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks.

“Greeks” here presumably means Gentiles who were attracted to the Jewish faith and attended the synagogue.

It was at this point that Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia. When he was still in Athens, Paul had instructed them to join him there, but it is likely he had then sent them back to check on the churches – perhaps Silas to Philippi and Timothy to Thessalonica. It would have been about this time, too, that Paul wrote his two letters to the Christians in Thessalonica. They are his earliest letters to churches (and historically the first books of our New Testament to be written).

As soon as Silas and Timothy arrived, Paul devoted his time entirely to preaching the Word and he put aside his tent-making for a while. He was speaking mainly to Jews, proclaiming to them that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. This was usually the main theme of Paul’s preaching to Jews.

However, as had happened in other places, they rejected his message and abused him. He symbolically then broke off relations by shaking out his garments in front of them:

Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the gentiles.

He said this to them, using language found in the Old Testament and meaning that the Jews must take full responsibility for the consequences of their choice. He now felt free of his former responsibility to preach to them, and would now devote his energies to the Gentiles. Among these he would have great success. The Gentiles in this seedy port town proved far more responsive than the Jews in the intellectual centre that was Athens.

Paul now moved in with a man called Titus Justus, described as a “worshiper of God”, which would mean he was an uncircumcised Gentile who attended the synagogue. His house (ironically for Paul!) was next to the (now hostile) synagogue.

However, there was a surprise conversion when Crispus, who was no less than the president of the synagogue, together with all his household, became Christians. It was the beginning of many conversions among Corinthians.

As we read these lines we can see the hand of God working so clearly and so unexpectedly among many people. Corinth, the city of sin, proved a far more fertile soil for the Gospel than sophisticated Athens. And it was the persecution of Jews in faraway Rome that brought Paul to meet two of his most loyal assistants, Aquila and Priscilla. As we have said and seen so often in this story, God writes straight with very crooked lines. May we be able to see God’s hand as clearly in our own daily experiences.

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