DRAMA AT ANTIOCH Acts of Apostles 13:14, 43-52 – April 21, 2013, Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
DRAMA AT ANTIOCH
Acts of Apostles 13:14, 43-52
April 21, 2013
Rev. Emmett H. Carroll, S.J.
In the year 46-48, Paul and Barnabas begin the first of their missionary journeys. By ship, they come to the port city of Perga, and then make their way to Antioch. Another city named Antioch is on the Orontes River near the modern nation of Syria. The Antioch that now occupies our thinking lies in the province of Pisidia, in south central modern Turkey.
In this Antioch, Paul preaches about Jesus Christ. In the synagogue, Paul recalls the history of the Jews, and he speaks of Jesus Christ as the savior of the people. Then Paul gets to the heart of his message. “Even though the [leaders of the Jews]” says Paul, “found no cause for sentence of death, they asked Pilate to have him killed” (Acts 13:28). Here Paul explicitly accuses the Sanhedrin of seeking from the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate the death of a fellow Jew.
“When they carried out everything that was written about [Jesus], they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb. But God raised [Jesus] from the dead; and for many days [Jesus] appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, and they are now his witnesses to the people.” And in this same speech, Paul continues: “Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses” (Acts 13:29-31, 38-39). Your scriptures, Paul asserts, are all written about Jesus.
Then Paul directly lays the death of Jesus to the Sanhedrin leaders. And he says to the synagogue listeners that God has raised Jesus from death to life, from the tomb to appearing to witnesses over many days. Even though the leaders crucified Jesus, yet God restores life to the crucified.
Paul shows Jesus as continuing the religious history of the Jews. Moses and David died. Jesus has a new life. No wonder that the Jewish community of Antioch finds in Paul a passionate speaker, for Paul awakens them both to their history and to a new history in Jesus.
“The next Sabbath, almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowd, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul” (Acts 13:44-45). So some Jews cheer Paul as he speaks, and other Jews blaspheme against Paul and against Jesus. On television, you and I have seen people infuriated with others. One anti-gun bunch shakes fists against opponents—a pro-gun crowd clutching guns; a pro-life gallery points accusing fingers at pro-choice people asserting civil rights; clear-cut timber workers spit at the spotted owl. Like these modern antagonists, crowds in Paul’s day are ready to duke it out.
“Then both Paul and Barnabas speak boldly, saying “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles…. When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers” (13:48). There it is again, more fighting words. But halt with such rough action!
Turning to the Gentiles ought not to be understood either that the Jews will not be preached to again or that the Gentiles are offered God’s word only because of rejection by the Jews, as a sort of afterthought or second choice. God intends that all be saved (Luke 2:30-32), but the Jews must be allowed to hear and respond first.
So now others wade into this heated shouting match. “The Jews, however, incited the women of prominence who were worshipers, and [the Jews excited] the leading men of the city, and [the Jews] stirred up a persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their territory” (13:50). So the action is getting hot!
The women of prominence and the leading men were wealthy Romans who settled in this city as the Roman Empire rebuilt Antioch. Modeled after the city of Rome, this city of Antioch had wards. Women and men became adherents of the Jewish religion. As in the home city of Rome, so in Antioch, Judaism was winning converts among the aristocracy of the period. And now these “god fearers” had Paul and Barnabas banned from the city, even from the entire territory; they were tossed out, perhaps bodily. Jealous leaders stirred up important women and men who brought it about that Paul and Barnabas were officially given the bum’s rush. Jealousy wins that moment.
Jealousy is a green eyed monster. Jealousy is the attitude of a person who thinks his or her possessions inadequately match that person’s deserts; jealous, I resent what another person has. Saint Augustine in the year 386 is strongly moved when he reads from the Letter to the Romans, “not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (13:13-14). In Paul’s day, in Augustine’s day, in our own times and imaginings, jealousy corrupts my emotions.
Paul and Barnabas follow Jesus’ instructions (Luke 10:10-11). The city of Pisidia Antioch has not welcomed these apostles, and they go into the streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we shake off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.”
We pray that jealousy may not block our embracing the kingdom of God that has come. Amen!