Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Acts 9 - Conversion of St Paul

St Peter heals Aeneas and raises Tabitha from the dead
Ottheinrich-Bibel, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cgm 8010, c1530
Acts 9 juxtaposes key events in the missions of SS Peter and Paul:

  • the conversion of St Paul (verses 1-25;
  •  his escape from Damascus return to Jerusalem and then to Tarsus (verses 26-31);
  • the healing of Aeneas and raising of Tabitha from the dead by St Peter (verses 32-43).
Saul continues to persecute the faithful:
Saul, with every breath he drew, still threatened the disciples of the Lord with massacre; and now he went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters of commendation to the synagogues at Damascus, so that he could arrest all those he found there, men and women, who belonged to the way, and bring them back to Jerusalem. 
Chrysostom (Homily 19): He fitly mentions Paul's zeal, and shows that in the very midst of his zeal he is drawn. Yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter, and not yet sated with the murder of Stephen, he was not yet glutted with the persecution of the Church, and the dispersion. Lo, this was fulfilled which was spoken by Christ, that they which kill you shall think they offer worship to God. J He then in this wise did it, not as the Jews: God forbid! For that he did it through zeal, is manifest from his going abroad even to strange cities: whereas they would not have cared even for those in Jerusalem; they were for one thing only, to enjoy honor. But why went he to Damascus? It was a great city, a royal city: he was afraid lest that should be preoccupied...
3 Then, on his journey, when he was nearly at Damascus, a light from heaven shone suddenly about him. 4 He fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, Saul, Saul, why dost thou persecute me? 5 Who art thou, Lord? he asked. And he said, I am Jesus, whom Saul persecutes. This is a thankless task of thine, kicking against the goad. 6 And he, dazed and trembling, asked, Lord, what wilt thou have me do? 7 Then the Lord said to him, Rise up, and go into the city, and there thou shalt be told what thy work is. His companions stood in bewilderment, hearing the voice speak, but not seeing anyone. 8 When he rose from the ground he could see nothing, although his eyes were open, and they had to lead him by the hand, to take him into Damascus. 9 Here for three days he remained without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
 3 Et cum iter faceret, contigit ut appropinquaret Damasco: et subito circumfulsit eum lux de cælo. 4 Et cadens in terram audivit vocem dicentem sibi: Saule, Saule, quid me persequeris? 5 Qui dixit: Quis es, domine? Et ille: Ego sum Jesus, quem tu persequeris: durum est tibi contra stimulum calcitrare. 6 Et tremens ac stupens dixit: Domine, quid me vis facere? 7 Et Dominus ad eum: Surge, et ingredere civitatem, et ibi dicetur tibi quid te oporteat facere. Viri autem illi qui comitabantur cum eo, stabant stupefacti, audientes quidem vocem, neminem autem videntes. 8 Surrexit autem Saulus de terra, apertisque oculis nihil videbat. Ad manus autem illum trahentes, introduxerunt Damascum. 9 Et erat ibi tribus diebus non videns, et non manducavit, neque bibit.
Acts presents Paul as a 'replacement', for Stephen, describing him in similar terms in various places, and mirroring his ministry to the Greek speaking faithful, bringing the number of Greek named ordained ministers back up to the sacred number of seven, as Chrysostom notes:

To compensate the discouragement in the matter of Stephen, here is encouragement, in the bringing in of Paul: though that sadness had its consolation in the fact of Stephen's making such an end, yet it also received this further consolation: moreover, the bringing in of the villages of the Samaritans afforded very great comfort.
10 There was, in Damascus, a disciple named Ananias; to him the Lord called in a vision, Ananias. Here I am, Lord, he answered. 11 And the Lord said to him, Rise up and go to the road called Straight Street; and enquire at the house of Judas for a man of Tarsus, named Saul. Even now he is at his prayers: 12 and he has had a vision of a man called Ananias coming in and laying hands on him, to cure him of blindness. 13 At this, Ananias answered, Lord, many have told me about this man, and all the hurt he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem; 14 and he has come here with authority from the chief priests to imprison all those who call upon thy name. 15 But the Lord said to him, Go on thy errand; this is a man I have chosen to be the instrument for bringing my name before the heathen and their rulers, and before the people of Israel too. 16 I have yet to tell him, how much suffering he will have to undergo for my name’s sake. 17 So Ananias set out; and as soon as he came into the house he laid his hands upon him, and said, Brother Saul, I have been sent by that Lord Jesus who appeared to thee on thy way as thou camest here; thou art to recover thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
10 Erat autem quidam discipulus Damasci, nomine Ananias: et dixit ad illum in visu Dominus: Anania. At ille ait: Ecce ego, Domine. 11 Et Dominus ad eum: Surge, et vade in vicum qui vocatur Rectus: et quære in domo Judæ Saulum nomine Tarsensem: ecce enim orat. 12 (Et vidit virum Ananiam nomine, introëuntem, et imponentem sibi manus ut visum recipiat.) 13 Respondit autem Ananias: Domine, audivi a multis de viro hoc, quanta mala fecerit sanctis tuis in Jerusalem: 14 et hic habet potestatem a principibus sacerdotum alligandi omnes qui invocant nomen tuum. 15 Dixit autem ad eum Dominus: Vade, quoniam vas electionis est mihi iste, ut portet nomen meum coram gentibus, et regibus, et filiis Israël. 16 Ego enim ostendam illi quanta oporteat eum pro nomine meo pati. 17 Et abiit Ananias, et introivit in domum: et imponens ei manus, dixit: Saule frater, Dominus misit me Jesus, qui apparuit tibi in via qua veniebas, ut videas, et implearis Spiritu Sancto. 
 Chrysostom (Homily 20): ...the Lord, it says, spoke unto him in a vision, and Ananias answered and said, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he has done to Your saints at Jerusalem. Acts 9:13 For if he spoke in objection to Him, much more would he have done so, had He sent an Angel. And this is why, in the former instance, neither is Philip told what the matter is; but he sees the Angel, and then the Spirit bids him go near to the chariot. But observe here how the Lord relieves him of his fear: He is blind, says He, and prays, and are you afraid? In the same way Moses also is afraid: so that the words betokened that he was afraid, and shrunk from the task, not that he did not believe. He said, have heard from many concerning this man. What do you say? God speaks, and you hesitate. They did not yet well know the power of Christ.
18 And with that, a kind of film fell away from his eyes, and his sight was recovered. He rose up, and was baptized; 19 and now, when he had taken food, his strength returned to him.For some days he lived with the disciples at Damascus, 20 and from the first, in the synagogues, he preached that Jesus was the Son of God. 21 All those who heard it were amazed; Why, they said, is not this the man who brought ruin on all those who invoked this name, when he was in Jerusalem; the man who came here for the very purpose of arresting such people and presenting them to the chief priests? 22 But Saul was inspired with ever greater strength, and silenced the Jews who lived at Damascus by shewing them clearly that this was the Christ.23 So many days passed, and then the Jews plotted against his life.24 Saul was aware of the plot; and, since they kept watch over the gates, day and night, to make an end of him, 25 the disciples contrived to let him down by night along the face of the wall, lowering him to the ground in a hamper.
Chrysostom: (That he fled from Damascus) this was no cowardice: he preserved himself for the preaching. Had he been a coward, he would not have gone to Jerusalem, would not immediately have commenced teaching: he would have abated somewhat of his vehemence: for he had been taught by the fate of Stephen. He was no coward, but he was also prudent (οἰκονομικός) (in husbanding himself). Wherefore he thought it no great thing to die for the Gospel's sake, unless he should do this to great advantage: willing not even to see Christ, Whom most of all he longed to see, while the work of his stewardship among men was not yet complete.

Such ought to be the soul of a Christian...Nothing is more frigid than a Christian, who cares not for the salvation of others...Such too were those Virgins, chaste indeed, and decent, and modest, but profitable to none wherefore they are burned. Such are they who have not nourished Christ. For observe that none of those are charged with particular sins of their own, with fornication, for instance, or with perjury; in short, with no sin but the having been of no use to another. Such was he who buried his talent, showing indeed a blameless life, but not being useful to another. How can such an one be a Christian?
26 So he reached Jerusalem, where he tried to attach himself to the disciples; but they could not believe he was a true disciple, and all avoided his company. 27 Whereupon Barnabas took him by the hand and brought him in to the apostles, telling them how, on his journey, he had seen the Lord and had speech with him, and how at Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he came and went in their company at Jerusalem, and spoke boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He preached, besides, to the Jews who talked Greek, and disputed with them, till they set about trying to take his life.30 As soon as they heard of this, the brethren took him down to Caesarea, and put him on his way to Tarsus.31 Meanwhile, all through Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, the church enjoyed peace and became firmly established, guided by the fear of God and filled with encouragement by the Holy Spirit.
Mission of St Peter:
32 And now Peter, as he visited the saints everywhere, came down to see those who dwelt at Lydda. 33 There he found a man called Aeneas, who had not left his bed for eight years, being palsied. 34 And Peter said to him, Aeneas, Jesus Christ sends thee healing; rise up, and make thy bed; whereupon he rose up at once. 35 All those who dwelt at Lydda and Saron came to see him, and their hearts turned to the Lord.
Chrysostom (Homily 21): Like the commander of an army, he went about, inspecting the ranks, what part was compact, what in good order, what needed his presence. See how on all occasions he goes about, foremost. When an Apostle was to be chosen, he was the foremost: when the Jews were to be told, that these were not drunken, when the lame man was to be healed, when harangues to be made, he is before the rest: when the rulers were to be spoken to, he was the man; when Ananias, he ch. 1:15; 2:15; 3:4-12; 4:8; 5:3-15: when healings were wrought by the shadow, still it was he. And look: where there was danger, he was the man, and where good management (was needed); but where all is calm, there they act all in common, and he demands no greater honor (than the others). When need was to work miracles, he starts forward, and here again he is the man to labor and toil.
36 And there was a disciple at Joppa called Tabitha, which means the same as Dorcas, a gazelle. She abounded in acts of charity and in almsdeeds; 37 and it so happened that at this time she fell sick, and died, and they washed the body and laid it in an upper room. 38 Since Lydda was close to Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to find him; Come to us, they urged him, without delay. 39 So Peter rose and went with them; and when he came there they took him into the upper room, where all the widows stood round him in tears, shewing him the coats and cloaks which Dorcas used to make while she was among them. 40 Peter sent them all out, and went on his knees to pray; then, turning to the body, he said, Tabitha, rise up; and she opened her eyes and looked at Peter, and sat up on the bed. 41 So he gave her his hand, and raised her to her feet; and then, calling in the saints and the widows, he shewed her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many learned to believe in the Lord. 43 He stayed in Joppa a number of days after this, lodging with a tanner whose name was Simon. 

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