Saturday, June 04, 2011

Another Paul?

Today's first reading introduces us to an evangelizer who was so ardent and articulate that, by comparison, St. Paul seemed (to some in Corinth, at least) to be a stammering ignoramus. But what's not to like about Apollos? I picture this Jew from the intellectual city of Alexandria, as a rather big fellow: his imposing stature would have contrasted sharply with Paul's acknowledged frailty. And he was an accomplished orator, in a culture in which oratory was a spectator sport. But more than these material qualities, Apollos was a man so inflamed by the Gospel that he took it upon himself to travel the Mediterranean world, far from his home in Egypt, to preach--even though, Luke tells us, he hadn't even gotten the whole story: "he knew only of the baptism of John."
I had to ask myself how this could be, and one plausible answer may be that Apollos was in Jerusalem as a Passover pilgrim at the time of Jesus' death and resurrection, but that he had already set off to proclaim the Messiah before the Ascension and descent of the Holy Spirit. Luke says that Apollos was well-versed (!) in the Scriptures: perhaps he was one of the few (or only!) disciples who, on hearing that Jesus had been raised from the dead, connected that with all that the "Law, the Prophets and the Psalms" had foretold. Somewhat like the disciples at Emmaus who rushed to Jerusalem to share the news when they realized what had happened to them on the road, Apollos may have immediately begun to proclaim the Messiah. Like Paul, Apollos went directly to the synagogue, offering his learned arguments from the Scriptures how Jesus had fulfilled all that had been written beforehand. It was in the synagogue of Ephesus that Priscilla and her husband heard Apollos, and realized that the great preacher still had something to learn. To his credit, Apollos accepted that from the Roman immigrants who were in Ephesus at Paul's behest. (What a surprise it must have been for him, at any rate, to discover a community of believers in the great city!) And from there, Apollos went to Corinth, where he bowled the people over with his eloquence, provoking those unfavorable evaluations of Paul.
Sometimes I am tempted to silence because I am so aware of the lacunae in my knowledge of the faith and theology--but Apollos went out with the message he had (even though it was still incomplete) while remaining open to further instruction. Maybe Apollos can be a patron for us in the New Evangelization!

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