It’s Not About You: A Meditation on the Abrupt End of the Acts of the Apostles

may26blogLast week as we finished the Easter Cycle and crowned it with Pentecost. We also finished the lengthy reading of the Acts of the Apostles. There are two parts of the Acts of the Apostles: The Acts of Peter and those of Paul. But to be honest, the book has an unfinished quality to it. Let’s consider that.

First, a quick summary: The second part of Acts is focused on the evangelical mission of St. Paul as he made four journeys into Asia Minor and then into Greece. The final chapters of Acts deal with Paul’s arrest, imprisonment, and appearance before Roman officials (e.g., Felix and Festus, Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem and Caesarea).

Paul appeals his case to Rome and is sent there on an ill-fated journey that ends in shipwreck at Malta). After finally making it to Rome, Paul is imprisoned and awaits trial. The story seems to be building to a climactic conclusion, but then the story just ends! Here is the concluding line of the Acts of the Apostles:

[Paul] remained for two full years in his lodgings. He received all who came to him, and with complete assurance and without hindrance he proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 28:30-31).

And that’s it. Acts just ends. But Luke, don’t just leave us hanging! Did Paul ever go on trial? Was he acquitted (as some traditions assert) and then made his way to Spain as he wanted? Or did he lose his appeal and suffer beheading right away? What was the outcome of the trial?

How can we answer this exasperating and unsatisfying end?

The simplest answer is that the Acts of the Apostles is not really about Paul. It’s about the going forth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all the nations. Luke chose to recount this going forth of the Gospel by focusing first on Peter and then on Paul.

Once Paul reaches Rome (and though under house arrest is able to freely preach the Gospel there) the story reaches its natural conclusion. While others had preached the Gospel in Rome before, Luke chose to illustrate the going forth of the Word of God through Paul’s activities, and so once Paul arrives there the goal has been accomplished. From the central hub of Rome, the Gospel would now radiate outward, by the grace of God, to every part of the Roman Empire.

But what about Paul’s fate? The answer is that it doesn’t matter. It never was about Paul; it was about the Gospel. Paul himself testified to this when he said, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace (Acts 20:24).

We are often focused on personalities, and in so doing lose track of what is most important. Frankly, the person we are most focused on is often our own self. Acts never really was about Paul. And your life is not about you; it is about what the Lord is doing for you and through you. We often want things to revolve around us: around what we think and what we want. But truth be told, we are not all that important. We must decrease and the Lord must increase (Jn 3:30).

Some of these notions hit hard in today’s culture that is so focused on bolstering self-esteem. But in the end, our true glory is not our own; it is the glory of God radiating in us. If we decrease, the Lord increases. That does not mean that we are swallowed up and lost in Christ. Rather, it means that we truly become the man or woman God has always made us to be, one who reflects the very glory of God. Perhaps it is best to let Paul himself have the final word:

For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for the sake of Jesus. For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of (Jesus) Christ (2 Cor 4:5-6).

This video is a depiction of the conclusion of the Acts of the Apostles. The scene begins with Paul speaking to Jewish leaders in Rome. (Note that the epilogue, which shows Luke leaving Rome, is not part of the Acts of the Apostles.)

6 Replies to “It’s Not About You: A Meditation on the Abrupt End of the Acts of the Apostles”

  1. On earth, we are grateful for all that God does for us, but only in eternity will we know what God has done through us.

  2. Even at 58, because of difficult situations in my family of origin, I have terrible self-esteem issues. I’ve never been able to resolve what is the difference between a healthy self-esteem and humilty (ie not thinking about yourself) as you imply. Any thoughts to help me with that?

    1. Well, I’m not Msgr. Pope, and don’t have the careful scholarly way he is able to use language, but humility is not thinking little of yourself, but admitting what you are. Some saints have simplified it to say, humility is the truth.

      So what’s the truth about us? If you have a high IQ, it’s not wrong to know it and admit it, which is proper self-esteem. To earn a living and help support your family with your high IQ is also proper, for it is a gift from God (and not your own achievement.) To act like you have a low IQ, or to not use your high IQ for the good of others, would be wrong. To use your high IQ to make others feel bad about themselves, or puff yourself up, is a sin.

      When God asks us to be humble, He is trying to get us to see that without His grace we are really just as morally bad as the worst human being out there. Evil and wrongdoing in us is like pepper sprinkled in a soup. It is in ALL of us. It’s in there, even if it’s not evident, and we are best off to know it. And the truth is, without God, that evil will grow and grow and take over more of our lives, sprouting like weeds in a field. But with God’s grace, the weeds of evil thoughts and deeds become diminished, and we show more and more virtue in our thinking and behavior. But we are not the cause of the goodness. It’s God’s work. So if left to ourselves we would end up a field of weeds, choking off any good in us. But with God, we are like a field of wheat, the weeds crowded out by all the good in us.

      So, humility is getting to the point where we admit this fact: that anything good in us is from God. And when we know, without God, we’re lost. But with Him, we have a chance.

      If someone is truly humble, they see this truth – what they’d be without God. And because of this they realize that in spite of their talents and gifts and virtues, they are not really any better than anyone else, not at the core. And so they treat others as better than themselves, knowing any good in them is God’s work, not their own nature. That’s humility.

      Hope this helps a little.

  3. In these days when we moderns look to individualism and hedonism as kinds of virtue because of our pursuit of happiness, turning our backs to the truth of the gospel, it is time that we learn that it is not about us, it is never about us. It is about HIM who was lifted up to draw us all to HIM, The ETERNAL. Only our hardheadedness and HIS respect of our free will, will keep us away from HIM as we choose the world instead of basking in HIS Love and Grace. I believe when we die and come face to face with HIM that we will judge ourselves and choose where to go, heaven or hell, after we had gone and seen every aspect of our past lives, in retrospect, in a big screen where everyone will see if we loved and served HIM and others whom we met in our journey through life. LORD have mercy on me, this poor soul. YHWH ROPHEH

  4. Another more simple explanation is that the author stopped writing just before Paul was sentenced to death and so he could not have know what was to come. The interpretation offered by Msgr. Pope certainly provides a more profound spiritual perspective and may explain why the text was not modified after the fact.

  5. And if she doesn’t contact you, then continue no contact until the time
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