Greek to Paul! Wednesday, 6th Week of Easter- Acts 17:15, 22—18:1
Chapter seventeen sees Paul arriving in three major urban cities of Macedonia (Greece), Thessalonica (the headquarters of the Roman governor), Beroea and Athens. These are major cities that are located on the Via Egnatia (Acts 17:1) a major Roman highway connecting the eastern and western parts of the empire. In each city he follows the same modus operandi. He will go to the synagogue and preach first to the Jews arguing from scripture (not telling anecdotes or jokes). The reception he receives varies in each city.
In Thessalonica, he argues with the Jews over three Sabbaths winning some Jews and many Greeks but incurring the wrath of the Jewish authorities who are jealous of him and his mission; a wrath that seeks to turn the city upside down with mob violence. In Beroea he meets with Jews and Geeks who are receptive but his mission is brought to halt because word reaches the Jews in Thessalonica who descend with their vile ways on the people of Beroea. Finally he arrives in Athens where he preaches both in the synagogue and marketplace and is met mostly with indifference leaving him with little success in this mission field.
It is remarkable how the parable of the sower (or should I say seed) comes to life in these three mission fields of Greece. The sower is the same, the seed does not change yet the soil determines produce of the harvest. Perhaps we ought to ask our self how truly receptive am I to God’s word rather than the dramatic style of preaching?
Our pericope today focuses on Paul who is now addressing the Greek philosophers of the Areopagus which is both a hill and a council for it is they who desire to understand his teaching. Interestingly we know that Paul is not in Athens to teach, he had to flee Beroea and was waiting for his companions, Silas and Timothy. But Paul was a man on fire and was distressed to see the Athenians worship idols and so he feels compelled to speak.
There seems to be no problem per se with what Paul has to preach till he comes to verse 30. Up to this point his message is appealing and even splattered, as some suggest, with the thoughts of Greek poets like Epimendies who used similar words like “in him we live and move and have our being” (verse28) or Aratus who in the 3rd century BC said “for we too are his offspring.”(verse28b). If this is true then the Athenians would have been mighty pleased.
Yet it is in verse thirty, when Paul speaks of repentance and resurrection of the dead that the Athenians take umbrage. They held the belief in the immortality of the soul and to think that one would have a bodily resurrection clashed with their philosophical world view. Though most scoffed at him, some wanted to hear more but we are told that Paul leaves them; perhaps because he realises the futility of his mission.
When Paul crossed into Philippi, he had left west Asia and entered Europe. This was a new culture, language and way of thinking from him. Paul does not shirk challenges and his departure from Athens must be seen in the light of the fire that burnt within him; a fire to make Christ known to the whole world. It is to this great apostle that the Church truly owes her seeds of missionary work; he was truly the missionary par example.
Fr Warner D’Souza
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