Saturday of Week 6 of Easter – First Reading

Commentary on Acts 18:23-28

Today we begin the Third, and final, Missionary Journey of Paul.

After leaving Corinth, Paul, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila, crossed over to Ephesus on the west coast of present-day Turkey. He separated from them there and went to preach in the local synagogues. In spite of the unwelcome reception he so often got from his fellow-Jews, he always made a point of approaching them first when he arrived in a new place. He apparently did well there because they asked him to stay longer. However, he was clearly anxious to get back to Syrian Antioch but he promised that he would return – and he did.

On reaching Palestine, he landed at Caesarea where he greeted the local church before going on northwards to Antioch and it is at that point that today’s reading begins.

He stayed in Antioch for an unspecified length of time before setting out on his third – and final – missionary journey. He began by revisiting the places where he had planted the church almost 10 years previously. He followed the same route he had taken when beginning his second journey but in the reverse order. The only places mentioned are “the Galatian country and Phrygia” which are in the southern part of present-day central Turkey..

We are then introduced to Apollos, who had just arrived from Ephesus in Lydia, on the west coast. He was a Jew and a native of Alexandria, which was on the north coast of Egypt and, at the time, the second largest city of the Roman Empire. It also had a large Jewish population.

Apollos is spoken very highly of as a man of eloquence, well versed both in the Hebrew scriptures and in the “new way of the Lord”, as well as being a deeply spiritual person. Strangely enough, in spite of all that he knew about Jesus, he had not yet been properly baptised. “He only knew of John’s baptism”, that is, he had not been baptised in the name of Jesus. Basically, like John, he was still looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. His baptism was based on repentance for sin rather than full incorporation through the gift of the Spirit in the Christian community.

In Ephesus, he became an enthusiastic preacher and spoke fearlessly in the Jewish synagogue there. Here he drew the attention of Paul’s friends, Priscilla and Aquila, who took him to their house and gave him a deeper understanding of the new Way.

Perhaps because of what he had heard from Priscilla and Aquila, Apollos was anxious to go across to Achaia, in other words to Corinth, and letters were written to guarantee him a warm welcome. There he gave great encouragement to the believers while continuing to debate with his fellow-Jews, proving from the scriptures that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.

It is clear that Apollos had a very special charism for evangelisation, so much so that cliques began to form in the community where some were for Paul and others for Apollos. These developed into quarrelling factions. Paul would later deplore this development in one of his letters (see 1 Cor 1:12 and 3:4-11).

These remarks about Apollos have something in common with the description of what we find in the following passage where we are told that the disciples there only knew of John’s baptism. Paul had all these people baptised in the name of Jesus.

All the same, we could take inspiration from the insights and zeal of Apollos for the Way of Jesus in the context of evangelisation today.

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