Today’s reading starts with a little historical marker—“When Gallio was proconsul of Achaia . . .” Gallio’s brother was the philosopher Seneca (tutor to the emperor Claudius’ son, Nero). Historians record that Gallio was a calm and fair-minded man who served as proconsul of Achaia (in Greece) from AD 51-52. So this was about 20 years after the death of Jesus. The previous verses tell that Claudius expelled all Jews from Rome. Some records suggest this was because of “tumults” over someone called, “Chrestus” (a common misspelling of “Christ.”) In 20 years, a significant stir over Jesus had reached from Jerusalem to Rome (plus Turkey, Greece, and Africa too). Here in Corinth, Gallio did not get drawn into the controversy between believers in Jesus and Jewish nonbelievers.
This vignette about Gallio’s role is an odd little report. Why is it included in Acts, I wonder? At a minimum, it fits with Acts’ other illustrations that proclaiming and following Jesus in those times and places was a risky and sometimes outrageous life to lead. No wonder Paul had to keep moving, all the while encouraging and strengthening believers even as he widened the circle. Despite the hardships, Paul and the other leaders in Acts kept daily choosing it. They did not seem to aspire to a quiet house, a perfect yard, and comfortable savings.
In contrast, pretty much the worst we face if folks discover we follow Jesus is to be thought old-fashioned and a little ignorant. We may be awkwardly out of step with preferences for believing eclectic bits of this and that, a pleasing mix of belief and non-belief to keep life interesting and yet meaningful. But Jesus’ claims about himself as taught by the apostles—those very claims that swept through the Roman Empire in a generation—just don’t lend themselves to a salad bar approach to faith. Jesus claimed to be “the way, the truth, and the life”—the only way to come to God, not just one option. He offered true life, eternal life starting right now, for those who follow him. It was enough for Paul to build his life on.
I wonder what Paul would say about my often chameleon-like religiosity? Reading Acts is challenging for a would-be chameleon. But there is hope here as well. The people named throughout the book—Paul, Priscilla, Aquila, Timothy, Lydia, Silas and so on—were just regular people who found ways to be proclaimers of Jesus. Priscilla and Aquila made tents for a living. But in the course of that living, their faith spilled out to those around them. It wasn’t always welcome and was sometimes fiercely unwelcome. But where it found a thirsty soul, it was like water in a desert that brings dormant things to life. Lord, may it be so for me. Give me your living water and with it new courage, clarity, and passion for you. Let it spill out and bring life to others. May it refocus my life too. Amen.