Today’s reading: Acts 28
Today we read about Paul’s arrival in Rome after his harrowing journey. This journey has taken several months, it has included a shipwreck and many stopovers. On one stopover in Malta, Paul has cured many people who were sick. Upon arrival in Rome, Paul is allowed to live by himself with only one soldier guarding him. No doubt at this point Paul could have escaped many times. His preaching and healing of the sick would be well known to the guards that transported him. We don’t know if he soldiers converted but upon his arrival in Rome, they have likely reported that Paul is not a threat. Thus as a Roman citizen, he is given the softest treatment.
One thing that is interesting to note is that both in Puteoli and Rome we find Paul visited by “brothers”, people that have already been converted to Christianity. It is most likely that they were converted by Peter, who reports in his letters that he is in “Babylon” which is a Jewish code word for Rome.
We also find that the Jews of Palestine have not sent on warnings or charges against Paul. This will also allow Paul to operate for a long while free from scrutiny. Most likely, after Paul left for Rome, the Jerusalem authorities were just happy to see him go, knowing it would be many years before he could make a complete round trip.
What is also interesting is that the local Jewish leaders have also heard of this growing sect of Judaism and are interested in learning about it. They asked Paul to explain it to them. It is interesting to see how this happens. The text says that Paul spends the entire day “from morning until evening” explaining it. This is not some simple message being boiled down to the lowest common denominator, Paul is going into detail. This suggests that Paul is thoroughly expiating the Old Testament explaining how all details corroborate each other and are fulfilled in the life of Jesus.
Notice, it then says that “some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved.” When you think about it this is a surprising thing. Paul is the greatest evangelist, selected by the risen Jesus himself to spread the Gospel to the entire world. In his younger days, he was a Pharisee, trained under the greatest rabbi of the era and undoubtedly was a master of the Old Testament scriptures. But despite having the Gospel explained to them by the greatest of the great evangelists some still do not believe.
Paul explains, while they are walking out, that for some their hearts have “grown dull”.
So, as they disagreed among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet:
“‘Go to this people, and say,
“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed;
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them. ‘
Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”
What does it mean when someone’s heart had “grown dull”? We have heard similar phrases in the Bible of people who have been bind to the Lord working in their lives. We have heard it said that their “hearts grew hard” or that the Jews are a “stiff-necked people”. Young’s literal translation of this passage is that, “made gross was the heart of this people”.
There is no easy answer as to what prevented some from converting. These were at least superficially pious men. Leaders of the Jewish community in Rome, they no doubt prayed and followed tradition. Yet even with Paul detailing all of the scripture for them they refused to see what was right in front of their eyes. How did they explain away passage after passage that came to fulfillment in the life of Jesus? How did they ignore verse after verse that was corroborated by another book or another prophecy? We are not given an exact answer in the text. Instead, it stands as a warning to us, don’t be like them, don’t deny what can be shown from the Scripture. Don’t let your heart “grow dull”. When the Catholic Church expiates the scriptures every verse is read in harmony with all the rest of scripture, with history, and with tradition. This harmony cannot come from men but must come from the Holy Spirit. It’s easy to “grow dull”, to accept less challenging understandings, to not delve deep but in doing so you lose too much, for the deeper you go the more wonderful the mystery.
Tomorrow: 1 Thes 1