Homilette for Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 18:9-18; John 16:20-23)

The account of Gallio’s judgment in Acts today is significant for two reasons. First, it gives a clue for dating Paul’s missionary activities. Second, it gives biblical precedent for the separation of Church and state.

Roman records show that Gallio was proconsul in Corinth for only the summer of 51 A.D. Because Paul is thought to have left Corinth shortly after the episode with Gallio, he must have stayed there from 50 to 51 A.D. (if what Acts says about his being there only a year and a half is accurate). That year then acts as a hinge for determining other dates in Paul’s sojourn. Although the date is disputed, Paul likely concluded the controversy over circumcision in Jerusalem in 49 A.D. Also, his first letter to the Thessalonians, the earliest New Testament piece and written in Corinth, carries a 50-51 A.D. vintage.

The Jews haul Paul off to the tribunal because he is converting non-Jewish “God-fearers” to Christ rather than to an orthodox Judaism. However, Gallio, the emperor’s representative, believing it imprudent for the state to meddle in religious affairs, dismisses the case. His action is reminiscent of the position that the Church takes vis-à-vis government. The Church teaches that a government must not allow religious belief to be imposed on any person. Rather, it should guarantee every person the freedom to choose the faith that his or her conscience dictates. Americans should be thankful that their government has followed this rule and that their representatives to Vatican II successfully explicated the doctrine there.