Fr. James' Lectionary

The Lectionary is both a reading program for completing all of Holy Scripture on a one year schedule, and a daily comment on a portion of the day's reading wedded to a poem to give an added perspective on the theme.

Location: Amherst, Virginia, United States

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Overcoming Human Nature: Acts 20 with a poem by Rosemary Dobson, Eutychus

Daily Readings
Psalm 25, Genesis 22, Isaiah 22, Acts 20

Daily Text: Acts 20

Paul Goes to Macedonia and Greece
After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples; and after encouraging them and saying farewell, he left for Macedonia. When he had gone through those regions and had given the believers much encouragement, he came to Greece, where he stayed for three months. He was about to set sail for Syria when a plot was made against him by the Jews, and so he decided to return through Macedonia. He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Beroea, by Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, by Gaius from Derbe, and by Timothy, as well as by Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia. They went ahead and were waiting for us in Troas; but we sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we joined them in Troas, where we stayed for seven days.

Paul’s Farewell Visit to Troas
On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight. There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting. A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.’ Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left. Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted.

The Voyage from Troas to Miletus
We went ahead to the ship and set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul on board there; for he had made this arrangement, intending to go by land himself. When he met us in Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. We sailed from there, and on the following day we arrived opposite Chios. The next day we touched at Samos, and the day after that we came to Miletus. For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia; he was eager to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.

Paul Speaks to the Ephesian Elders
From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders of the church to meet him. When they came to him, he said to them:
‘You yourselves know how I lived among you the entire time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, enduring the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house, as I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance towards God and faith towards our Lord Jesus. And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.

‘And now I know that none of you, among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom, will ever see my face again. Therefore I declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to warn everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothing. You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions. In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” ’

When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed. There was much weeping among them all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, grieving especially because of what he had said, that they would not see him again. Then they brought him to the ship.

Overcoming Human Nature
Three issues involving clear connections with the Holy Spirit are present in Acts 20. They are the gift of healing, the gift of prophecy and the gift of discernment. Healing meant raising a young man from the dead and it was done almost without interrupting Paul’s discourse that long night in Troas, before he took his leave for Jerusalem. Prophecy included believing that he would lose his freedom in Jerusalem. Captive anyway to the Holy Spirit, Paul seemed unconcerned. His only thought was to complete his mission of spreading the news to all concerned. Finally, discernment is exercised with this great discourse for the Ephesian elders who come from the city to meet with Paul in Miletus while he waits for his ship to carry him on. Luke evidences no knowledge of the epistles in Acts, and yet this presentation heard by him is full of the sort of thing that Paul says to other churches in other years. He is concerned that these leaders will be alert to protect the church for which Jesus died. He knows that there will arise certain ones to tear the church apart to gain power and followers. In fact, he predicts that some even among those he addresses will do that very thing. And yet what he suggests is what happens in every place and every time, human nature being what it is. Because of that, what he has to say is of even greater importance, for he is essentially saying that by the power of the Holy Spirit it is possible for these leaders to give such wise leadership that they may overcome human nature itself to nurture the followers of Christ. He is also painting a picture for the contemporary church that seemingly has no Paul to instruct them. Leaders simply build their ministries around themselves. The Church stumbles when it could soar with the power of God.

Rosemary Dobson

The first day of the week he spoke to them
In Troas when they met to break their bread,
And preached till midnight. Eutychus afterwards
Could not remember anything he said.

This was an irony not easily faced:
Indeed, he kept it largely unconfessed
That after travelling many days and nights
In dangers often, and by hardships pressed,

To hear the words of Paulus and receive
Some healing comfort for his troubled mind
He could not fix his thoughts, was sorely vexed
By others pushing in the crowd behind,

Till, smarting with discomfiture and grief,
He reached a window not above his height
And climbing on the sill and looking out
Breathed in the soporific air of night.

To saints who have received the word of God
One lifetime is too short for telling all
The joyful news. And certainly an hour
Did not suffice in Troas for Saint Paul.

His discourse lengthened. Eutychus’s head
Sank on his chest (and for his sake we weep),
The saint in words that none who heard forgot
Spoke of Damascus. Eutychus was asleep.

Now they were gathered in an upper room
That rose three lofts above, as it is said,
And from his window Eutychus fell down
And those that took him up pronounced him dead.

Saint Paul went straightway to the youth and held
His body in his arms, and cried to those
Who stood about, “Be troubled not. For see
His life is in him.’ And the young man rose,

His troubled mind at peace, his body healed.
And others there were saved that else were lost.
And in the morning paul went on afoot
To reach Jerusalem by Pentecost.

I like this story of young Eutychus
For I, like him, am troubled too, and weak,
And may, like him, be too preoccupied
To listen if a saint should come to speak.

And yet, I think, if some event befall
To bring me face to face with holiness,
I should not fail to recognize the truth
And spring to life again, like Eutychus.


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