Who were these 12 people that Paul encounters in today’s first reading? They were generically referred to as “disciples” in Acts 19:1. Many people assume, based on the following verses, that they were not followers of Jesus, but rather a remnant of the followers of John the Baptist. Not so. Luke is always quite specific in unmistakably identifying John the Baptist’s disciples. These folks are disciples of Jesus, but with a not-yet-complete understanding of the faith.
Not a surprising theme in this part of the Acts of the Apostles.Their faith seems considerably more defective than Apollo’s had been before Priscilla and Aquila gave him the instructions he lacked. Some might argue that these 12 people don’t even know there was a Holy Spirit. But the Greek is not clear at all. The verse can be translated that they have no idea how the Holy Spirit is given or that Jesus is the source of the Holy Spirit given in the world. And so Paul engages, not just in evangelization, but catechesis.
For St. Paul, it was an anomaly in his eyes that a baptized person should not have received the Spirit, so he questioned them more closely, and learned that they had received John’s baptism. John’s baptism was one of preparation rather than one of fulfillment, as Christian baptism now was. Accordingly, Paul explained to them the anticipatory character of John’s baptism and its close association with his announcement of the stronger one than himself who was about to come.
Stop for a moment and imagine yourself a bystander, a believer, and a witness to this scene. And maybe you compare your faith and understanding with Paul, or Apollos, Priscilla, Aquila, or there 12 people. You realize it is a continuum of faith – which raises at least two questions? First: where are you on the continuum, and second, what are you doing about moving along the continuum to the fullness of faith?
In education it is called being a life-long learner. In matters of faith it goes to the truer meaning of disciples, the ones who follow. Jesus rests now and again, but He keeps moving. Paul rests now and again, but he keeps working out his faith – not in belief – but in the depths and implications of what that profession and confession will mean in his life. There is a reason the Letter to the Romans is not his first epistle, but likely his last. He is working it all out, moving along the continuum. But are you?