Apollos is a celebrity. He preaches about Jesus as “the way” but doesn’t fully know what he’s talking about. Priscilla and Aquila are early Christians in scripture, famously generous, kind, and filled with the Holy Spirit. They’re a wonderful couple.
They see that Apollos is lacking in a couple of major Christianity areas — baptism and the Holy Spirit. How do they handle the popular Apollos and his attention-getting skills with Jews?
They pulled him aside.
Image by Mykola Volkov
By John Pearring
The most complicated being to explain, in both ethereal and concrete terms, is God. The most complicated idea to explain, using everything from metaphors to computational logic, is God.
You might ask, “Why is that?” Shouldn’t the creator be an essential truth, a straightforward concept to get across?
A court case that took almost a year and eventually impeached the president of the United States waffled over the definition of one word — “is.” The verb “to be” is a rather simple concept compared to “God.” One of the most intriguing Hindu statements made in contemplative prayer puts both of those things together. “God is.” It’s a brilliant cop-out in religious thinking ever. Do you want your fawning acolytes and followers to get out of your hair? Tell them to go away and meditate on, “God is.”
Explaining God isn’t just more difficult than rocket science and brain surgery. God is the “most” complicated concept in the universe, both backward and forward in time. And we should probably just shut up about it, but I’ve got two more pages left.
I went looking for simple, clean, pithy explanations for God and ran into some pretty bad stuff. Every attempt to shrink God down into just a few words, or even a paragraph, left me shaking my head.
I’m not saying the attempts are terrible. They’re just interminable, meaning purposely mind-blowing in order to eliminate limits. For instance, here’s the Catholic dictionary definition of God. It should be good, enlightening, and worth lots of follow-up discussion. Right?
“Reflecting on the nature of God, theology has variously identified what may be called his metaphysical essence, i.e., what is God. It is commonly said to be his self-subsistence. God is Being Itself. In God essence and existence coincide. He is the Being who cannot not exist. God alone must be. All other beings exist only because of the will of God.” (From Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary)
It’s not just over-obvious, which would be fine, it’s a sandwich of words. The trapped editor, here, given an impossible task, ends up presenting essence, existence, will, subsistence, and nature into a merry-go-round. And he begins with “metaphysical.” And, here’s the fascinating thing about that definition. He probably spent weeks on it!
I know something about Fr. Hardon. He’s a gem. There’s really nothing wrong with this fellow at all. I’m picking on him to make a point, which mostly reveals how much of a dolt I am.
The point? Fr. Hardon’s explanation reveals how extremely complicated explaining God can be.
This definition doesn’t mention love, the Trinity, or statues. Of course, it doesn’t! There’s no way to cover everything about God, the religions about him, and his doctrines in one paragraph. How about his creatures of angels and animals and plants?
“Yeah,” we say. How about everything? How do you say everything without saying every big and little thing? We can’t say God is everything, cuz that's not true. Everything God created is not God.
See? This is hard. Explaining God is also how we get in trouble. I’m already in serious trouble and I haven’t even gotten one page written.
This brings us to two wonderful people and a celebrity of sorts from the book of Acts. Apollos is the celebrity. He preaches about Jesus as “the way” but doesn’t fully know what he’s talking about. Priscilla and Aquila are early Christians in scripture, famously generous, kind, and filled with the Holy Spirit. They’re the wonderful couple. They see that Apollos is lacking in a couple of major Christianity areas — baptism and the Holy Spirit. How do they handle the popular Apollos and his attention-getting skills with Jews?
“He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way (of God) more accurately.”
I’ve been taken aside in my life. You probably have, too. I hope your shepherd’s hook removal from a podium was done by someone as kind as Priscilla and Aquila. I still have the marks on my neck.
Why were they so kind to Apollos? Because God is way more complicated than we think. They knew that. The wonderful couple wasn’t a full font of knowledge, but they shared with Apollos what they knew.
How do we react to clarifying explanations of God to folks who are publicly, loudly, and with good success leaving out important elements? The answer, if you don’t know, lies in how you already help clarify all kinds of things. When people were bereft of details needed in their understanding you spoke up. You probably can remember what you did. I’m talking about people you care about, not complete strangers.
Recall your history. How did you correct somebody's incomplete thinking? Did you leave bruises, cracked windows, angry letters, and broken hearts? If so, then that’s your style. If you kept silent and never said anything, then that’s your style. Priscilla and her husband offered us a better way. There were two of them. They didn’t work alone. They praised Apollos about what he got right and were excited to tell him the extra good stuff.
Two key things in the scripture we read today help us in our role as either an Apollos or the wonderful couple of Priscilla and Aquila. First, Apollos was “accurate” in what he knew. He wasn’t a blow-hard, flippant with the facts. He was on point. Second, Priscilla and Aquila were advocates in the early Church, already well-spoken and gifted in expanding the missionary activities of the faith. In both situations of either being the loud celebrity or the nurturing couple, there is a need for learned knowledge.
What Luke tells us in this story is the on-the-job training nature of Christian evangelization, but background knowledge must exist before we begin witnessing and giving testimony. No matter how little or much we know about our faith, though, accuracy is important. Next, mentoring from others brings both affirmation and growth to everyone working at spreading God’s word.
We’re called to be like both Apollos and like Priscilla and Aquila. Step out and witness. Step up and love each other.
We may not think in our jobs or our families or among our friends that we have a responsibility for evangelization. We may be right. If God, though, keeps giving opportunities to witness by our behavior or give testimony with our words, then we should consider being part of the “accuracy” missionaries. Speak out and see what happens.
We need to be sure we have like-minded followers with us, though. All of this review of the difficulty of explaining God rests upon our affiliation with men and women of faith. We’re best out there as collaborators and members of a team.
Regarding background knowledge, some may disagree with me. I am constantly reminded of the scripture that tells us the Holy Spirit will speak for us, and to not be "too ready" with a script in hand. I don't think that's a proper reading, to think we shouldn't be prepared or trained.
“Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.”
This scripture has to do with our persecution. It’s about “defense,” not our witness. This admonition to not prepare refers to being accosted and forced to defend our faith at a tribunal. Evangelization is witnessing, not defending. “Don’t bother trying to explain God. God will do that.” If we don't he might have to!
God will give us words in anything we do. That’s always true. So, in explaining God to others, there is no formula. God will come to our rescue. He will reveal everything to us at appropriate times. We, however, have to do work on ourselves. We have to be knowledgeable.
Fr. Hardon did a good study of the subject. And guess what? It’s over my head, but it's still good hard work.
You may never get the opportunity to witness about God like Apollos, or even like Fr. Hardon. The Jews in the synagogue were like Apollos, though he was new to them. I, a Catholic, was primed for Fr. Hardon. Both had been trained to speak about Jesus. Folks showed up to hear Apollos because of his reputation as a scripture scholar. Folks read the Catholic Dictionary looking for a scholar's definitions.
Just be ready in case you have an audience of one, or three, who know you’re a believer. They approach you, wondering what’s going on in your head and heart. Make sure you keep up on your knowledge of the faith for people who want to be like you.
Be accurate. Be fervent.
And, also, be overjoyed if a holy couple takes you aside and boosts your credentials.