Bible Reading: Acts 17:22-32
The apostles and missionaries of the early church often encountered people who were simply unable to understand the story of Jesus, without trying to put it into their context, which, of course, did not always work. Back then there were already many stories of gods and goddesses around and it was easier to fit a powerful experience of healing or of the holy spirit into what one already knew – rather than try to learn something new altogether. And that got me thinking, what do we already know that we might try to make an experience of Jesus fit into today? What other ‘gods’ form part of our everyday lives today? Money, power, status? How do these fit in to our faith and understanding of our relationship with God?
Paul sees how the people are trying to fit the experience of Jesus into the story they already know and I wonder how guilty we are of that, at times. Whereas what we should be doing is ‘writing’ our own story of Jesus as we experience him in our lives – day after day. And this is what Paul is trying to do here…to draw them away from the story they know to the evidence of God in life, with which they are already familiar.
Paul sees the altar that the Athenian people have erected to an unknown god and even though they have the a whole host of Greek gods and goddesses they worship, still it would appear that there is something in their hearts that realizes they cannot know everything, that they have not identified the source of all things. Paul, however, identifies that restlessness and that openness as the longing the Spirit has stirred up in each of us – until we rest in God.
Through Jesus, we come to understand the invitation and welcome of God and through his Holy Spirit we learn to recognize how, in God, we live and move and have our being.
As Paul speaks to those gathered in the market place he doesn’t insult them or scare them in any way. Rather he invites them to see something familiar in a new way and exciting way. And I wonder, when did we last take us such an invitation as this, to look for new and exciting ways in which God is working in our lives. Paul allows and indeed encourages them to reinterpret their tradition in light of what they now know of Jesus. Indeed, he encourages them to consider that the god for whom they have been striving to know who was until now unknown. Is now able to be known through the person of Jesus Christ.
Paul then calls the Athenians to imagine God, and themselves, in more lofty terms than they are used to doing. Rather than worshiping a god of stone or silver or gold, they are called to consider that we are offspring of God – the one true living God. And there are a couple of lessons we can take from this passage.
Like the people of Athens we too have to accept that Jesus does not merely fit into any category that we might wish to place him in, based on what we have read or heard from others. We should all have our own unique personal relationship with Jesus and it is that personal relationship which should be the basis of our own experiences of Jesus in our everyday lives.
Yes, we can and should share these experiences with others and having others share their experiences with us might help at specific times. However, it doesn’t automatically follow that the experiences of others will be the same as ours – and that’s something worth remembering.
Because otherwise, there might be times when we we might think, if God acted in a specific way at a specific time for such and such a person, surely He will do so for me. But if we think and believe in this way, we then come to expect the same outcome. But as I’m sure we all know deep down, that’s not how it works at all.
Just as our lives are all different and unique, so the way in which God acts in those lives is also different and unique.
And secondly, like Paul, we are called to witness to the good news of Jesus Christ. But what is the good news of that story? Reconciliation with God, the promise of peace, the words of eternal life, the hope of the life of the world to come, the forgiveness of sins. Ultimately, guidance in how to live – and no other story can do that.
But as to how we bear witness to all of this, well, we might all have our own different ways and means of doing so. However, it needs to be rooted in our own relationship with Jesus, so perhaps the best way ultimately is to show how we have known these in our own personal experiences with Jesus. What has Jesus done in our lives. How have we known his love in a practical way. How has his life and example changed our life. What does he now mean to us as we journey through our life.
This is how we best bear witness to our Lord.