We are no gods! Monday, 5th week of Easter- Acts 14:5-18
The story of rejection continues for Paul and Barnabas. Driven out of Antioch of Pisidia, they now make their way to Iconium (Turkey), seventy miles southeast of Antioch by the Sebastian way. This was the main route that connected Ephesus (in Turkey) with Syria and Mesopotamia. While Iconium was a melting pot of races and cultures, it was predominantly Hellenized (Greek culture) but now under Roman rule. Together, Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe all which find mention in chapter 14, are the cities of South Galatia (not to be confused with Paul’s letter to the Galatians to whom he wrote and who lived in the North of Galatia around modern day Ankara, Turkey).
What happened in the synagogue of Antioch of Pisidia happens also in the synagogue of Iconium. Paul and Barnabas always encounter receptivity and resistance. They took their message first to the Jews in the synagogue, only to be kicked out by those jealous of them, or as in this case, those who were unbelieving. They were not quitters for we are told they stayed back in spite of the opposition; yet in this case they had to flee, for a plot had been hatched to stone them to death. Though they fled Iconium, we know that after some time they returned, so there must have been some believers there.
Going further south they land up in Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia. It is in Lystra that they are preaching; not in a synagogue but now on the streets, to a people who have never heard of the God of Israel. While Lystra did not have a synagogue, we know it had Jewish people, for it was the home town of Timothy who had a Jewish mother (Acts 16:1)( St Paul’s letters to Timothy). It is here in a narration similar to the one we read in the opening chapters of Acts 9:32-35, that Paul and Barnabas, like Peter, heal a lame man. The consequences of this healing in a Gentile land are quite different.
The people, we are told break in to a frenzied response thinking Paul and Barnabas to be the Greek Gods Zeus and Hermes (Mercury)! Everyone including the temple priest of Zeus seems to be in on the act, for we are told he brings oxen and garlands to the gates of the city where Paul is. It is a wonder that Paul and Barnabas broke through in their understanding of this religious outpouring in spite of what should have been their apparent lack of the local language.
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