We left the Apostles freed from their first trip to prison, praying with their community until the walls shook, and selling their land and possessions: putting all the proceeds at the feet of the Apostles. Throughout all of Salvation History, whenever the Israelites were living in the Promised Land, it was symbolic of them being obedient to God and following the laws of the covenant. Conversely, when they were outside that Promised Land in exile in Assyria or Babylon for instance, it was symbolic of them being far away from God and worshiping false idols. Selling the land and breaking the tie to the physical Promised Land, shows us that the Kingdom of God is no longer geographically bound by physical borders.
Continuing the mission that Jesus had while on earth, the Apostles perform many signs, wonders and healings in the name of Jesus and through the power of the Holy Spirit. In fact, the Spirit is working so powerfully, that people are laying the sick in the streets in hopes that Peter’s shadow will pass over them and heal them. These miracles arouse the jealousy of the chief priests and elders so much that Peter and the Apostles are put in jail. An angel springs them from jail overnight and encourages them to go back to the Temple to proclaim Christ. With egg on their face at this escape, the Sanhedrin the religious court of the Jews, has the Apostles arrested once more and brought before them. Gamali-el, a wise Rabbi, tells the Sanhedrin to let the Apostles go because if this movement is of men, it will die out, but if it is of God, then the Sanhedrin will find itself in opposition to God. While they are set free, they do not escape being flogged first.
Deacons are consecrated for the first time to help the Apostles deal with the day-to-day requirements of the new community of believers, which some scholars estimate was hovering at about 25,000 at this point. The Apostles could now focus on preaching the Gospel, evangelizing, and praying for the foundling Church. One of the seven new deacons, Stephen, speaks boldly about Jesus and finds himself arrested. Verbally sparing with some Greek-speaking Jews, makes them angry and they hatch a plot to have false witnesses accuse Stephen of blasphemy. During his trial, Stephen recounts the story of Salvation History back to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the prophets and accuses them of rejecting God over and over again and most recently having rejected Jesus. Holding back the angry mob was impossible and Stephen was stoned to death as the first martyr of the Christian faith. With great grace, Stephen forgives his murderers as he takes his last breath, in imitation of Jesus Himself. Saul, also known by us as St. Paul, observes all this and condones this stoning and then begins a persecution that lays waste to the Church.
Persecution, rather than stop the Church, helped it to grow. Christians, like one of our new deacons, Philip, left Jerusalem and began to preach the Gospel in Samaria and Judea. The Holy Spirit asked Philip to get up and head south on the road to Gaza. Not knowing why and not questioning why, Philip soon is asked to talk to an Ethiopian Eunuch trying to understand the book of Isaiah. Philip explains the meaning of the scriptures to him and the Eunuch asks to be baptized on the spot. We learn from writings of St. Irenaeus in about 180 AD that Church Tradition holds that this man evangelized all of Ethiopia after his conversion. Next time we’ll see what happened with Saul….known to us as Paul.