First Thoughts on Year C First Reading Acts Passages from the Lectionary

Easter 6

William Loader

Easter 6: 5 May Acts 16:9-15

Luke is depicting the spread of the gospel by stages. Whether Paul really had such a vision or Luke, the storyteller created it, it remains the case that Paul crossed over from Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, to the Greek mainland, or really above the Greek mainland at the head of Aegean sea. So began the mission which touched cities there to which he later wrote: Philippi, Thessalonica, and, down into the Greek mainland, the isthmus port city of Corinth. By linking the move to a supernatural event, a vision, Luke is underlining that this was part of an action willed by God.

Travelling from Troas up to Samothrace and then down to Neapolis and by road a short trip to Philippi was a fairly straightforward journey. According to the gospel traditions found in Mark 6 and in Q, the common source of Matthew and Luke (see Luke 10), those who went out two be two were expect to be put up by local hosts. The same pattern governs Paul's behaviour. Hence he comes to stay with Lydia, the woman who dealt in purple cloth in Philippi.

The story tells us that he met her among some people who gathered to worship God beside the river that ran past the city. Apparently outside the gate was a place of prayer. Paul will have been following his usual practice of going first to the local community of Jews, the synagogue, sometimes designated as "place of prayer". Perhaps Lydia was already a senior person in leadership in that community and will have become the foundation member of the Christian congregation there. Perhaps her successful trade gave her money and influence and illustrated her business and leadership skills. Thus quite incidentally we may be hearing of one of the first leaders of a Christian congregation - a woman. Paul did not seem to have the problems which others sensed in having women in leadership. Prejudice would eventually win and often still holds the upper hand, though now processed with genuine conviction by some as divine order.

Luke may well be taking the story from a connected source in which a participant in the events tells the story, for suddenly we find a "we" appearing in the account. Some have concluded that Luke, himself, must have been there and so refers to himself. Others see it as part of Luke's story-telling technique with parallels in literature of the time, a kind of fiction to add vividness to the narrative and used sometimes in accounts of sea voyages, as here and in the stories that follow. It is one of the main grounds for identifying Luke as the author, whereas in the text itself we never hear who was the author of the so-called Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. The problems with claiming Luke as the author lie with the discrepancies in detail and theology between Luke and the real Paul, whom we encounter in his letters. If Luke is the author, then we have to explain the discrepancies - did three decades cause distortion of memory? Alternatively, we can be satisfied with acknowledging that we do not know. Certainly from his writings he tells us much about himself and his emphases - even if we shall never know his name! So, when I refer to the author as "Luke", I am using the designation very loosely.

This "Luke" does seem to be drawing on sources which go back to early days as he depicts the progress of the expansion of Christianity. It was very much city centred. Expansion beyond the city would be left to the locals. Paul makes his way to key cities, part of his passion to spread the good news across the world he knew. Thanks to the security of Roman roads and sea, his own energy and enthusiasm, and his deep conviction that there was really was something relevant to say to Jews and Gentiles about God, the faith made enormous progress. Along the way it opened new doors to leadership for those who might otherwise have been left aside. Significantly this included women and built on the leadership and innovation some had already been able to exercise, like Lydia. Her congregation remained supportive of Paul after his release from prison there (16:40) and through his later ministry (Phil 1:3-5; 2 Cor 8:1-2), though Paul in his letter makes no mention of her and instead speaks of two women who were quarrelling, Euodia and Syntyche (4:2). We see the beginnings of congregational life - in some of its common aspects.

Gospel: Easter 6: 5 May John 14:23-29
Epistle: Easter 6: 5 May  Revelation 21:10,22-27; 22:1-5

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