Grace to you and Happy Easter!
Believers in the Lord Jesus were called two names in the Acts of the Apostles. First was “The Way” and the second was “Christians.”
If you thought those names were nice or intended to be nice names, you are probably wrong. The names were actually derogatory of the identity of the people who followed Christ.
“The Way” describes a movement, an unwelcome movement. It appeared about six times in Acts of the Apostles (See Acts 9:2, 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). The first time it appeared in Acts 9:2 was when Paul asked the high priest for an authorization to go and hunt members of “The Way” and bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem.
The second name, which has come to stick, is “Christians.” It was a name given to Christians in Antioch because the people saw the believers as followers of Christ (Acts 11:26), a title used only two other times in Acts 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16.
Why were believers called members of “The Way” and Christians? One may not know completely the minds of the people who gave the names, but from biblical and historical evidence, we could arrive at some conclusions.
There was something about believers in the Lord Jesus that stood out among the people. Though they were called members of The Way in a derogatory sense as people who were different, people on the fringe of society and power. The name has something to say about their way of life. For the outside observers of the early Church, the members had a different way of life. Their faith was their own way of life. It was their core identity, what made them unique, different from the rest. It was a New Way.
The story at Antioch was similar. Antioch was the 3rd largest commercial city of the Ancient Rome with about half a million population. The city founded by Seleucus Nicator around 300 BC and named after his father Antiochus, was the center for sport and entertainment. It was the home of the temple of Daphne, known as the goddess of sensual pleasure. Prostitution was part of the worship of this goddess by her prophetesses. It was in this city that the members of The Way were first called Christians.
Why? Because, just as in the case of the nickname, The Way, the believers were different from others in their understanding of pleasure, social life and sex. Unlike many at Antioch, they were not part of the immorality that stamped the city. They believed in the fidelity of marriage relationships and the sacredness of sexual intimacy. They were not like others in the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratifying entertainment. They were simply different. The people of Antioch could see them, identify them, not by their color or their language—many of them spoke Greek as native speakers, not with a Jewish accent. Their uniqueness was their moral excellence and purity of creed.
Writing about the distinctive identity of Christians, the English writer, C.S Lewis, in his “Mere Christianity” talked about this uniqueness of the Christian identity as a decisive mark of who the believer is.
Christianity would be consistent with her calling if believers do not want to be like the world, not in the sense of biological endowments, but in the sense of morality and spiritual life. We lose our identity if we no longer shine the light for everyone to see. The light must be the light of purity, of unconditional love, of true sacredness of reproductive actions, of honesty and integrity; the call to holiness is a call to be set apart, modeled after Christ.
Be bold. Be Christian. Be Catholic. There should be no in-between.
Pray: Lord Jesus, give us the grace to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
[Tuesday Week 4 of Easter: Acts 11:19-26; John 10: 22-30]
Father Maurice Emelu PhD., provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.