by Kristin Fontaine
Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately. And when he wished to cross over to Achaia, the believers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. On his arrival he greatly helped those who through grace had become believers, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.
In the section of Acts that is the reading for Tuesday Proper 20 it is was unclear to me what I should take away from the passage in Acts above.
We start with Paul getting dragged before what seems to be a Roman authority figure who wants nothing to do with an internal religious dispute (a theme we saw also in the crucifixion narrative with Herod and Pilate). Then we see Paul in his travels to spread the word. For all that, he does not appear to be the focus of this section.
I found it helpful to read all of chapter 18 and there I found my context for making sense of this passage, for there, in the opening line we see the first meeting between Paul and Priscilla and her husband Aquila. Their names appear both later in this section and in the greetings 3 of the letters (Romans, 1 Corinthians, and 2 Timothy).
In verses 1-3 the three of them not only meet for the first time, the story says that they are all in the same trade– they are all tent-makers. It is specifically for that reason that Paul stays with them.
…a considerable time in Corinth he, Priscilla, and Aquila all set sail for Syria and then
When they reached Ephesus, he left them…. At this point Paul leaves Ephesus (and the story). Priscilla and Aquila are left or stay behind and take part in the religious life there.
A new, and apparently very enthusiastic man named Apollos, arrives in their midst and begins speaking about
…the things concerning Jesus. It it interesting that while the story stays that he spoke accurately, Priscilla and Aquila still take him aside and explained the Way of God
…more accurately. He knows part of the story through the baptism of John and what he knows of he speaks well of, but he does not know the whole story.
By reading back past the specific verses appointed for Proper 20, I was better able to make sense of the story and, in thinking about it, see how all three of the readings for Tuesday of Proper 20 tie together.
The Old Testament reading is Esther, not the climax of her story when she triumphs over Haman and saves her people; rather it is after she has made her decision to act and set the stage for her appeal to King Ahasuerus. As with the passage from Acts, the first time I read through the appointed section of Ester I couldn’t figure out why this was the passage selected.
The Gospel is the baptism of Jesus and the jailing of John, but the focus for me after reading and thinking about the Esther and Acts readings was much more on the storytelling link between John and Jesus. In Esther, we see her preparing the way for her approach to the king. In Acts we see Priscilla and Aquila educating Apollos that John prepared the way for Jesus and that the story can’t just stop with what he knows of John’s ministry. John was the anticipation, Jesus is the realization.
So as Esther uses her first feast to lay the groundwork for her attempt to save the Jews from Haman, John tells all and sundry that
…one who is more powerful than I is coming and that he is only there to prepare the way.
In Acts, we see Priscilla and Aquila spending considerable time with Paul. They go from being Jewish religious refugees in Corinth (having been expelled from Rome) to becoming literal followers of Paul. They go with him, sailing across the Aegean Sea and settling in Ephesus when Paul continues on to Caesarea, Antioch, Galatia, and Phrygia. They spent enough time with Paul to feel confident in approaching Apollos, who is described as someone who
…spoke with burning enthusiasm and who spoke boldly, and to correct his understanding of the Way of God to include not just John the Baptist’s teaching but that of Jesus as well.
Their instruction makes him an even better speaker and he gains support from them and from the local congregation to follow in Paul’s footsteps by going out to Achaia on a mission of his own.
In each story, we see that plans are laid and preparatory work done before action is taken. Esther holds one feast to prepare the ground for her plea to the king. John tells his followers that he is preparing the way for one who will come after. Paul, almost unwittingly, prepares Priscilla and Aquila to teach the succeeding generation of wandering disciples the ‘accurate’ Way of God; and they, in turn, prepare Apollos to be an even more effective evangilist than he was when he came to Ephesus.
These stories together say to me that effective action comes from both laying the groundwork in advance and then taking the risk to act on the plan. Esther makes up her mind to act, Priscilla and Aquila choose to follow Paul, Apollos harnesses his enthusiasm and listens, and John tells it like it is.
Knowing when to stop planning and start risking is where faith comes in.
Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.
Image: The Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome