Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Monday, January 22, 2007

Jesus' Baptism: Acts 19 with poem by William Shakespeare, from Comedy of Errors

Daily Readings
Psalm 23, Genesis 21, Isaiah 21, Acts 19

Daily Text: Acts 19

Paul in Ephesus
While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the inland regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— altogether there were about twelve of them.

He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God. When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.

The Sons of Sceva
God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them. Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.’ Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit said to them in reply, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?’ Then the man with the evil spirit leapt on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded. When this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, everyone was awestruck; and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised. Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices. A number of those who practised magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins. So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.

The Riot in Ephesus
Now after these things had been accomplished, Paul resolved in the Spirit to go through Macedonia and Achaia, and then to go on to Jerusalem. He said, ‘After I have gone there, I must also see Rome.’ So he sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he himself stayed for some time longer in Asia.

About that time no little disturbance broke out concerning the Way. A man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the artisans. These he gathered together, with the workers of the same trade, and said, ‘Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business. You also see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost the whole of Asia this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be scorned, and she will be deprived of her majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her.’

When they heard this, they were enraged and shouted, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ The city was filled with the confusion; and people rushed together to the theatre, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s travelling-companions. Paul wished to go into the crowd, but the disciples would not let him; even some officials of the province of Asia, who were friendly to him, sent him a message urging him not to venture into the theatre. Meanwhile, some were shouting one thing, some another; for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. Some of the crowd gave instructions to Alexander, whom the Jews had pushed forward. And Alexander motioned for silence and tried to make a defence before the people. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours all of them shouted in unison, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ But when the town clerk had quietened the crowd, he said, ‘Citizens of Ephesus, who is there that does not know that the city of the Ephesians is the temple-keeper of the great Artemis and of the statue that fell from heaven? Since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. You have brought these men here who are neither temple-robbers nor blasphemers of our goddess. If therefore Demetrius and the artisans with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls; let them bring charges there against one another. If there is anything further you want to know, it must be settled in the regular assembly. For we are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.’ When he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.

Jesus’ Baptism
Two issues seem to be paramount in Acts 19 for the young church: the question of John’s vs. Jesus’ baptism and the possibility that converts to the faith might adversely affect the economy of the local culture.

If Paul actually re-baptized these twelve believers in Ephesus it is the only example of rebaptism in the New Testament. It will be my assertion that he did not re-baptize them in water, but that Jesus’ baptism, from early in the church’s history had a different connotation and that was that baptism with the Holy Spirit was Jesus’ baptism. This is the common understanding in all three of the synoptic Gospels (Mt. 3:11, 12; Mark 1:7, 8; Luke 3:16-17). Since these Gospels reflect a common source, that same source would have been available to Luke when he later wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Therefore what Paul did for these twelve was the laying on of hands. He baptized them by the laying of hands and with this act came the realized power of the Holy Spirit in their lives, a power they had not previously known. For Jesus what was important was making all of the formerly sacramental and symbolic acts of godliness real. And ‘realness’ comes through the power of the Spirit of God. That was demonstrated in this very chapter by the seven sons of Sceva! I’m reminded of Robert Browning’s poem, Religion.

Religion’s all or nothing; it’s no mere smile
O’ contentment, sigh of aspiration, sir—
No quality o’ the finelier-tempered clay
Like its whiteness or its lightness; rather, stuff
O’ very stuff, life of life, and self of self.

In the contemporary world the early Pentecostals had it right. And they did not have it right because of their superior theological understanding, but because they, like the twelve in Ephesus, experienced the power of God in the outpouring of the Spirit.

Demetrius, the silversmith, probably over reacted, but he understood fully that a population converted to Jesus Christ would affect his income radically. Likewise, if Christians today really became serious about shunning the idolatry of materialism that is practiced in so-called honor of the birth of Christ on December 25th each year, our merchants would be screaming just as loudly. It has happened to some extent with the efforts made by a few leading Fundamentalists in this country, but they have not been joined seriously by a significant number of Christians so the cries of the merchants are rather muted. What if we all took the $100’s or $1000,s of dollars we spend each year at Christmas and gave that money to the poor through groups like Habitat for Humanity or The Heifer Project, what then? We too might see an uproar like that seen in Ephesus.

from Comedy of Errors
Act I, Scene ii, lines 97 ff.
William Shakespeare

They say this town is full of cozenage,
As, nimble jugglers that deceive the eye,
Dark-working sorcerers that change the mind,
Soul-killing witches that deform the body,
Disguised cheaters, prating mountebanks,
And many such-like liberties of sin.


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