JERUSALEM: THE MEETING WITH PETER
“Three years later”, Saul went up to Jerusalem to get to know Kephas (from the word “Rock” in Greek), the name he always used for Peter – and “remained with him for fifteen days” (Gal. 1:18). It is certain that the latter taught him the oral tradition relating to Jesus which Paul had not known (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-35), as well as a Christological interpretation of the prophets, according to what the Master taught his disciples.
His visit was discreet: the only other Apostle of the Church whom Paul met was “James the brother of the Lord” (Gal. 1:19). Paul was spiritually enriched through Mother-Church, but he could not integrate himself into it, most likely due to his past involvement as a zealot. He even escaped from an assassination attempt by the Hellenist Jews (cf. Acts 9:29-30).
He was sent on his way to Tarsus, where again he took up his work as a tentmaker, and continued to proclaim his faith in the synagogue (cf. Acts 18:3). These were the years of his personal growth.
ANTIOCH: THE BEGINNING OF THE MISSIONARY ADVENTURE
At the beginning of the 40s A.D., Barnabas was sent from the Church of Jerusalem to Antioch of Syria in order to reclaim the Church established by the Hellenist missionaries who were expelled from Jerusalem. He went to Tarsus to seek Paul’s help and became one of the leaders of the community, evangelizing with great success. This became the first separation from the synagogue environment, because Paul preached also to the Greeks. Thus, a mixed community was established. The “invention” of the title Christians used for the very first time in Antioch, represents one of the most beautiful fruits of Saul’s preaching in this town.
Henceforward, the Church of Antioch would become the center for spreading the Gospel and living independently from the Temple and the life of Judea.
The community of Antioch was arranged with a solid formation and organization. Thus, during a prayer assembly, the inspiration of the community confirmed the personal vocation. The voice of the Holy Spirit was heard saying: “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2); then, the assembly prayed, fasted, laid hands on the two men and sent them on their mission.
Barnabas and Paul sailed towards Cyprus. Once again it is the Holy Spirit who sent them in this direction: announcing the Gospel in the synagogues in the Eastern part of the island, in Salamis, later in the West, in Paphos. From this moment in time, Luke began to call Saul by his Roman name Paul, underscoring, in this way, his right of full title to go on mission to “the nations”.
ESTABLISHMENT OF THE CHURCHES IN ASIA MINOR…
On the way to Sebastopolis, beyond Taurus, Paul found himself completely immersed in pagan territory, including cities that were strategic for Rome. Luke speaks of Paul’s first important missionary speech in the synagogue of Antioch of Psidia, a new Roman colony; after a discouraging welcome by a majority of the Jews, Paul addressed himself to the Gentiles. Thus Paul and Barnabas went to Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. The two Apostles strengthened the young communities.
On the one hand, they encouraged a common life among believers coming from Judaism and those newly converted from paganism, thus making enemies among the leaders of the synagogues where they preached. On the other hand, they appointed some “elders”, according to the model of the Church of Jerusalem. When they accomplished this mission they returned to the great city of Antioch of Syria.