23 May 2011Acts 14:5-18
"We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them." (v. 15)
Paul and Barnabas were having quite a time of adventure and risk
as they travelled from city to city, country to country, spreading
the good news of Jesus Christ. In Lystra, Paul healed a man who had
not been able to walk since birth, having recognised that he had
faith. The crowd was very impressed! They demonstrated that they
had a lively faith in the Greek gods, and declared that Barnabas
must be the god Zeus and Paul, Hermes, and they even brought the
priest from the temple of Zeus to offer sacrifices to these gods
returned in the form of men. Of course Paul was not having any of
this: he and his companion tore their clothes (a sign of distress
and grief) and declared to the crowd that they were in fact mere
mortals and only able to do these things because of the one living
God to whom they should all turn.
What an interesting reaction - that the crowd should declare these followers of Christ to be great gods from their own tradition. It is, of course, a very human reaction: when we see something we don't understand, we try and put it within a story we already know. Even today we are quick to compare important or famous people with others who have done great things in the past. How many people commentating on the recent royal wedding compared Catherine Middleton to either Diana, Princess of Wales, or to Grace Kelly? It seems we have to draw on the icons and stories of our history to understand our present. This is not a new way of approaching the world; when, in Matthew's Gospel (Matthew 16:13-16) Jesus asked his disciples who people say he is, they answered "some say John the Baptist, but others, Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets". The disciples declared that Jesus is the Messiah, the one looked for to save Israel. Again, people were trying to make sense of something extraordinary by fitting it into their 'story'.
For Paul and Barnabas it was important that people understood that the gods they had believed in were meaningless in the face of the living God who created all things and had sent a witness to the nations to turn them away from things that have no value.
How might you describe Jesus to someone who has no knowledge of him? Which other characters in history might you compare him to?
What are the things in your life that Paul might describe as 'worthless', things that distract you from what matters? What might you do about this?