By Barbara Klugh
Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:7-18; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21. Go to www.lectionarypage.net for the weekly lectionary text. In this week’s readings, Paul’s preaching in Athens sparks curiosity, ridicule, and belief, Peter tells Jesus’ disciples not to be intimidated for doing good in the world, even if it results in suffering, and Jesus promises his disciples that he will send an Advocate to be with them forever.
Acts 17:22-31: Our reading this week takes place during Paul’s second missionary journey (50-52 AD). Paul arrives in Athens, a center for philosophy and the exchange of ideas, and a city with many gods. Paul was distressed about all the idols and proclaimed the Christian message in the synagogue and in the marketplace. Some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him, and wanted to know more about the “foreign divinities” Paul was proclaiming, so they brought him to the Aeropagus (Mars Hill), the site of the advisory council and a meeting place for philosophical discussions.
Paul begins with a compliment, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, `To an unknown god.’” Paul then tells them that the unknown god is God, the creator and Lord of heaven and earth, the source of all that is.
Paul tailors his message to his Greek audience. He quotes from Greek philosophers, such as Epimenides, who wrote about the one god, “In him we live and move and have our being,” and Aratus, who wrote, “We are his offspring.” Paul tells his audience that the one true God has been patient with human ignorance for a time, but all should repent because God “will have the world judged in righteousness by a man [Jesus] whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
The lectionary ends here, but in the next couple of verses we learn, “When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed, but others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ At that point Paul left them. But some of them joined him and became believers.” Their reaction is just as true today—when people hear about Jesus and the Christian way of life, some scoff, and others become believers.
Psalm 66:7-18: The psalmist calls on all the earth to bless and praise God. God has protected his people through tests of hardship and defeat and brought them to freedom. The psalmist promises to make offerings and invites people to hear what God has done for him—God responded to his repentant heart. “Blessed be God, who has not rejected my prayer, not withheld his love from me.”
1 Peter 3:13-22: In this week’s reading, Peter continues to encourage Christians who are suffering persecution for their faith. Peter is not calling on Christians to seek out suffering, but tells us that it’s a blessing to suffer for doing what is right: “Do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord.” Always be ready to witness for Christ. Keep in good conduct; it will honor Christ and shame your abusers. Peter says, “For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.”
It may be theologically incorrect, but, personally, I think suffering is never God’s will, but that God suffers along with us when we are enduring hard times. In the Prayers and Thanksgivings section of the Prayer Book, Prayer 55, p. 831, “For a Person in Trouble or Bereavement”: The prayer begins, “O merciful Father, who hast taught us in thy holy Word that thou dost not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.…”
We are called to follow the example of Christ, who suffered and died once and for all to bring us to God. Peter tells us, “he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison (meaning he ‘descended to the dead’ as we say in the Apostles’ Creed)” who were disobedient in the days of Noah so that they might hear the message of salvation. Peter says the eight persons on the ark were saved through water, prefiguring baptism. And now, baptism saves us, “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.”
John 14:15-21: In this week’s reading, Jesus continues his farewell discourse, his final instructions to his disciples.
Jesus tells the disciples to keep his commandments. You probably recall Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, which we read on Maundy Thursday: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Although he won’t be physically present, the Father will give them another Advocate to be with them forever. The Advocate is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth. The Spirit is not available to unbelievers, but they (and we) know him because he will dwell within.
Jesus said, “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” The resurrection of Jesus will reveal his living presence to the disciples through the Holy Spirit. No longer confined by time or space, Jesus will continue to be with his disciples always, because the Holy Spirit abides in everyone who loves Jesus and keeps his commandments. This is very Good News indeed!