A consistent problem in the early Church still plagues us today
Apollos made his way to the weekly meal of the community, hosted at the home of one of its members on the outskirts of town. As he walked along he passed one of the elders of the local synagogue, who made a point of looking the other way. Although Apollos had been welcomed to the synagogue when he first arrived in Corinth, he was now banned from preaching there. The synagogue leaders considered Apollos a dangerous apostate and vigorously contested any claims he made about Jesus.
As he neared his destination, Apollos saw that the community had already started to gather. A senior member of the group was arguing with the host about the proper seating arrangement, a surprisingly persistent source of contention. A poor goat herder and his wife from down by the river were keeping their distance from the main crowd, not sure if they were entirely welcome. Apollos had given the couple a small bit of financial assistance the previous week; he only wished that the collection had allowed him to be more generous. Noticeably absent from the assembly were the three founding families of the community who were loyal supporters of the apostle Paul. They often wrote to Paul encouraging him to return and always considered Apollos a poor substitute as leader of the group. Despite the challenges, Apollos had a great deal of affection for the small community of believers and was always happy to be with them.
The letters of St. Paul give us a glimpse into the lives of the early Christian communities and the challenges that they faced. Although the first Christians were excited by the new life to which they had been called, they did not always understand the teaching of Jesus and how to put that teaching into practice. Opposition from Jewish leaders and disagreements within the group were common. Communities regularly needed to be called to greater generosity, hospitality and humility. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul pointed out a particular problem he thought was ridiculous: divisions were emerging between the fan clubs of Paul and Apollos! Paul explained that in the grand scheme of things he and Apollos amounted to nothing; only God was worthy of their loyalty.
We face many of the same challenges today. Although we benefit from the insights and traditions of the generations that preceded us, we need to continue to pray and reflect on how to best live lives of faith in our own place and time. We need to be reminded often of Jesus’ invitation to share our resources with those in need and to welcome into our communities those who are very different from ourselves.
And, on occasion, our loyalties to particular messengers of the Gospel can cause us to lose sight of the message itself and create needless divisions. Those of us who proclaim the Gospel should try to do so as faithfully as we can and not worry about our own popularity. Those who listen to the proclamation will inevitably find one teacher or preacher more helpful than another, but we should avoid forming fan clubs and closing ourselves off to other ministers of the Gospel. As St. Paul reminds us, the Kingdom is God’s field; we are merely the workers.
For the Mass readings for August 31, click here. Depictions of Apollos are scarce, but the painting of St. Peter preaching in the catacombs provides a good illustration of an early Christian community. For more information on this painting, click here.
Author’s note: St. Ignatius Loyola encouraged us to use our imagination in contemplating Scripture passages so that we might draw greater fruit from them. In reflecting on St. Paul’s instructions and his reference to Apollos I use my imagination to fill in some of the details of the story.