First Reading: Acts 13:14, 43-52
Friends in Need
14 After Paul and Barnabas went through the city of Perga, they arrived at Antioch, near the area of Pisidia. They entered the synagogue at Antioch on the Sabbath and sat down.
43 After the synagogue service was over, many Jews and converts followed Paul and Barnabas. “Brothers and sisters,” both of them said, “we urge stay close to God’s grace.”
44 A week later, almost everyone in the city came to hear God’s word. 45 When the synagogue leaders saw the crowd, they became jealous and argued with Paul. They even insulted him and his message. 46 Then, Paul and Barnabas spoke boldly, “God’s word needed to be told to you first. But you rejected it. In doing so, you showed that you are not worthy of eternal life. So, we’ll go tell the Gentiles. 47 After all, God gave us a command, ‘I send you to be like a light to the Gentiles. I will use you to bring salvation to everyone in the farthest parts of the world.’”
48 When the Gentiles heard this, they shouted with joy, “Praise God for his word!” God chose those who believed that day for eternal life. 49 God’s word quickly spread throughout the area. 50 But the leaders stirred up the rich women in the synagogue and the city’s leaders. All three groups persecuted Paul and Barnabas and had them thrown out of the area. 51 Both men shook the dust from their sandals in protest and went on into Iconium. 52 All the followers were filled with joy and God’s Spirit.
14 They, having traveled through Perga, arrived in Antioch (near) Pisidia, and having entered the synagogue on the day of the Sabbath, (they) sat (down).
43 After the synagogue was dismissed, many of the Jews and worshiping converts followed Paul and Barnabas, who, addressing them, kept urging them to remain in the grace of God.
44 On the coming Sabbath, almost all the city came together to hear the word of the Lord. 45 The (Jewish leaders), having seen the crowd, were filled with jealousy and kept speaking against the (statements) having been spoken by Paul, insulting (him). 46 Emboldened, both Paul and Barnabas said, “It was necessary for the Word of God to be first spoken to you. Since you shove it away (from you) and judge yourselves not worthy of eternal life, Look! we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For the Lord has thus commanded us, ‘I placed you as a light to the Gentiles, (for) you to be (a means of) salvation unto the ends of the earth.’”
48 Hearing, the Gentiles kept rejoicing and gave glory for the word of God and believed, as many as were set (by God) into eternal life. 49 The word of the Lord traveled throughout the entire countryside. 50 But the (Jewish leaders) stirred up the respectable worshiping women (in the assembly) and the leaders of the city, and they incited a persecution against Paul and Barnabas and threw them out of their region. 51 Shaking the dust on (their feet) against (the leaders), they went into Iconium. 52 The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.
13:14 “arrived in Antioch (near) Pisidia” is actually “Antioch of Pisidia.” While the city of Antioch was near the region of Pisidia, it actually lay in the neighboring region of Phygia. An American equivalent would be “Washington, D.C., of Virginia.”
“having entered the synagogue on the day of the Sabbath, (they) sat (down)” It is unclear if Paul and Barnabas sat in the congregation or took the “Seat of Moses,” the chair at the head of the assembly where the rabbi would teach. But, it was not unusual for visitors to be given the honor of teaching in the local synagogue. In Acts 13:15, Paul was given such an invitation. At this point, he preached the Good News.
13:45, 50 “The (Jewish leaders)” is literally “the Jews.” In light of the excommunication of the Jewish Christians by the synagogues by the time Acts was written, the author Luke may have lumped the actions of the leadership into the synagogue body itself.
“the (statements) having been spoken by Paul, insulting (him)” The Leaders spoke against the statements of Paul with insults. But, were the insults against Paul or against the Good News he preached? The Greek is unclear. The verse was translated as “insulting (him)” but it could be translated “insulting (the works and person of Jesus).” The first case was slander, the second case was blasphemy.
13:47 “‘I placed you as a light to the Gentiles, (for) you to be (a means of) salvation unto the ends of the earth.’” from Isaiah 49:6, Septuagint (a first century Greek translation of the Old Testament). In Luke 2:32, Simeon applied these words to Jesus and his mission of universal salvation. Luke applied them to Christian missionaries, by extension.
Who is a lasting friend? The one with whom you share interests, or the one who needs what you have to offer? In this Sunday’s first reading, St. Paul shows us that generosity is better than shared interests in bonding people together.
In the past chapters of Acts, the focus has shifted away from life in the Jerusalem community towards a missionary effort in the Judean countryside and beyond. Paul has joined that missionary effort; this passage records a proclamation from his first missionary journey.
Paul’s first speech to the synagogue is missing from the passage. In 13:15-42, Paul recounts a short history of Israel to introduce the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The speech had such an effect that Paul was invited to address the city the next week .
The synagogue was split over the message. Some native Jews and converts were attracted to the Good News , while others opposed Paul to the point of verbal abuse . Paul’s message was clearly controversial and caused great scandal in the Jewish community. As a result, Paul and Barnabas were rejected, so, they announced their intention to address the non-Jews; Paul and Barnabas saw this proclamation as a means to fulfill prophecy (i.e., Isaiah 49:6) [46-47].
The reaction to Paul’s announcement caused immediate retaliation, with good reason. Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles 1) would mean a schism in the synagogue between those who believed in Christ and those who did not, 2) would encourage the free flow of Gentile converts into the community who would not follow Jewish Law, 3) would create a separate and competing synagogue if the Christians and the Gentile converts were ejected from the synagogue. Indeed, that was the eventual result. Paul established separate Christian synagogues (assemblies) in the cities where he preached. In the mean time, his message created a strange opposition, a coalition of rich Jewish women and pagan city fathers who had Paul and Barnabas thrown out of the city .
Paul should have befriended his fellow Jews with whom he had a shared interest, but he gave a message to the non-Jews who found joy in faith [48-49,52]. That’s where Paul found his true friends.
What is the basis of our friendships, shared interests (what you can share with me) or sharing Good News (what I can share with you)? Is friendship found in selfishness or evangelization?