We often come across people who, after having been touched by the Lord, become very passionate in their faith and want to do something for Him. In their ignorance, they can become over-enthusiastic and lack sensitivity towards others. Quite often, they are not conscious of their motives for service either. In extreme cases, some become fanatical and may be misguided in their faith. The normal reaction to such people would be to pour cold water to kill their enthusiasm. Of course, negative reaction such as this could at times be fuelled by underlying fear or jealousy of these people. The other common reaction is for authorities to just ignore them, and hope that the fervor will die a natural death, especially when such people refuse to accept supervision and guidance.
In the first reading, we see a similar scenario, but which elicited a very different reaction. We read that Apollos was “an eloquent man, with a sound knowledge of the scriptures and yet, though he had been given instruction in the Way of the Lord and preached with great earnestness and was accurate in all the details he taught about Jesus, he had only experienced the baptism of John.” Indeed, Apollos seems to be a very talented, knowledgeable and sincere man. He knew both the scriptures and the faith very well. He had both knowledge and passion in his faith and in Jesus.
Fortunately, we have Priscilla and Aquila who saw his potential. Instead of reacting with suspicion and fear, “they took an interest in him and gave him further instruction about the Way.” They saw in him a rough diamond that needed to be polished. Instead of writing him off as inexperienced and lacking in truth, they were ready to guide him. They knew that Apollos would be a greater preacher of the gospel once he was instructed in the fullness of the gospel. This calls for patient mentoring. Nature must be perfected by grace. That both of them were willing to take him under their tutelage, speaks much for them. They were not intimidated by the erudite knowledge of Apollos. He was a brilliant and eloquent man. They were ready to dialogue with him. They did not feel threatened that Apollos might outshine them as preachers and teachers. Their only concern was that Apollos be effective in his ministry. Priscilla and Aquila were selfless in the proclamation of the gospel, not thinking of their interests, popularity or status.
What can we learn from them? Firstly, as leaders we must be ready to find potential leaders to replace us. Good leaders are always on the lookout for potential leaders to take over their work. Like Priscilla and Aquila, we must learn to spot those with talent to succeed us. To hang on to power and position is to do disservice to the Church. Leaders cannot think of themselves and continue to enjoy their service and position without preparing others to replace them. The failure to look for new leaders will lead to the demise of whatever projects and initiatives we have started. This is one of the biggest mistakes of leaders, scrambling for replacement only when the situation demands it.
Secondly, we must mentor them once we find them to have potential for leadership. We must invest time to train them. This is the most difficult part. Being exemplary and mentoring potential leaders take time. We need patience and not expect them to be like us in every way. We need to accept compromises in the high standards we have set for ourselves. Otherwise, we will discourage the potential leaders, for they will feel inadequate and inferior. Skills need to be cultivated through time and experience. Training leaders therefore calls for tremendous sacrifices. We must be willing to let go and be willing to let them take over the limelight. At the same time, we must be encouraging, affirming, supportive and tolerant when they make mistakes. Only in this way will potential leaders find strength to persevere.
Thirdly, we must be tactful. “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him speak boldly in the synagogue, they took an interest in him and gave him further instruction about the Way.” They did not embarrass Apollos in front of everyone. They took him aside and spoke to him personally. When we need to correct or help someone, it is important that we do not make the person lose face before others. Tact and diplomacy will make people whom we need to correct more receptive to what we want to say. Although truth must always be said, it must always be spoken in charity.
Of course, such positive attitudes towards those who are talented call for a response as well. ‘Newbies’ must be willing to learn. The problem is that some think they know everything. They do not take the trouble to understand the procedures, background and history before rushing to implement changes; ignoring the lessons of the past. Docility is therefore essential for any formation. Without docility no learning is possible; regardless how willing experienced leaders are to impart wisdom and knowledge to them. Docility presumes humility.
Again, Apollos had the right spirit of learning. Although he knew much about the Hebrew scriptures and all that John the Baptist taught, he was willing to relearn everything. Considering that he was so steeped in the knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures, it would have been truly a great humility on the part of Apollos to let go of his previous learning and accept with openness what Priscilla and Aquila had to say about Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Apollos was willing to bracket his own convictions and knowledge in order to be fully receptive to what the couple wanted to share with him. Most likely, Apollos knew that there was something more than what he already knew so well.
Of course, the community also has a great part to play in the building up of future leaders. The community must be supportive and welcoming. We note that the Christians were very supportive too of Apollos’ initiative when he “thought of crossing over to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote asking the disciples to welcome him.” The problem sometimes is that communities are so used to their leaders and familiar faces that they are often not ready to accept new blood into leadership. They start comparing the new ones with the old and established leaders who are more experienced. As a consequence, potential leaders get discouraged because of the unfair and sometimes harsh criticisms and rejection they receive. How often have we had new leaders who, after being initiated into the group, give up because the community made them feel rejected and unwelcomed?
Of course, at the end of the day, realizing one’s potential requires more than the mere use of human ingenuity, etc. We need the grace of God. We read that when Apollos “arrived there he was able by God’s grace to help the believers considerably by the energetic way he refuted the Jews in public and demonstrated from the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.” Without the grace of the Holy Spirit, we can never excel in what we do. This explains why the disciples instructed Apollos on the baptism of the Holy Spirit, since he only received the water of repentance of John the Baptist.
For this reason, we must pray and ask for the grace of the Holy Spirit. “Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you. Until now you have not asked anything in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.” Only through Jesus, can we receive the help of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, the grace of the Holy Spirit is given to us through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus told the disciples, “For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have come to believe that I came from God.” By believing in Him, we will be blessed with all the graces needed to live our lives as intended by God and to accomplish our mission.
In the final analysis, effective preaching must come from a mind that can understand the depths of God and the mystery of His inner life; and a heart that is in touch with God and man; and finally a faith that is grounded in our confession of Jesus as Lord and Savior. So without a consciousness of the Holy Spirit and a clear experience of the power of the Lord in and through them, we will never be able to change the world. It is not enough to teach but rather, as the Bishop would instruct the candidate asking for admission to the Order of Diaconate, saying, “Believe what you read. Practice what you believe. Teach what you believe.” Faith in Jesus of the head and heart is what makes faith. When we trust in the power of God on account of our faith in Jesus, then our joy will be complete. When we ask in faith, and when the petition is answered, our joy is complete, for then we know that Jesus is true and is real.