What I’m Thinking: No Harangue

Despite his reputation for firmness, almost rigidity, the Apostle Paul began speaking to the Athenians with a compliment.

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the seventeenth chapter of Acts of the Apostles, the apostle Paul’s address to a crowd in Athens in the great forum, the Areopagus.

I have, I know, my own mental picture of the apostle Paul. I typically associate Paul with a certain amount of impatience, and with inflexibility, even anger, which doesn’t quite square with the reality that the apostle Paul was an extraordinarily successful founder of brand new churches, churches that took root in places that didn’t have a background (or at least a strong background) in the Jewish faith. He was the apostle to the Gentiles, as he put it, and so the people that were persuaded by the things he said were the people who did not have to the Hebrew scriptures as a foundation for understanding the teachings, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus.

He started from scratch.

And here in the 17th chapter of Acts I think we get a hint of how he was that successful: because he didn’t stand in the square and harangue people. He started out by saying, “I see how religious you are in every way.”

Now, he pointed to a particular altar dedicated to “an unknown god” and proceeded to say, I know something about this unknown God. The people that raised me know something about this unknown God. And this unknown God has done something extraordinary that I would like you to know.

The result was that people listened. Not all of them believed. Some of them challenged him. Some of them scoffed. But they listened. They listened.

It’s always tempting to say that our times are the worst of times (although I suppose with Dickens we could also claim that they are the best of times as well). It is something of a habit in contemporary society to harangue, to condemn, to begin addressing people by first telling them just how wrong they are. The apostle Paul shows us that we do not need to do that, not even with that most precious message: the message of God’s love.

Indeed, that message begins by recognizing just how precious the people to whom you’re speaking are to God. No need to harangue. Instead, it’s a matter of opening up something new about the God who is fundamentally unknown to us all, but of whom we can speak about love and compassion and care.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories What I'm Thinking | Tags: , | Posted on May 8, 2023

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