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

Saturday, January 27, 2007

A Clear Conscience: Acts 23 with poem by Abram J. Ryan, Better Than Gold

Daily Readings
Psalm 24, Genesis 25, Isaiah 26:1-27:1, Acts 23

Daily Text: Acts 23

While Paul was looking intently at the council he said, ‘Brothers, up to this day I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God.’ Then the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near him to strike him on the mouth. At this Paul said to him, ‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting there to judge me according to the law, and yet in violation of the law you order me to be struck?’ Those standing nearby said, ‘Do you dare to insult God’s high priest?’ And Paul said, ‘I did not realize, brothers, that he was high priest; for it is written, “You shall not speak evil of a leader of your people.” ’

When Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, ‘Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.’ When he said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three.) Then a great clamour arose, and certain scribes of the Pharisees’ group stood up and contended, ‘We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?’ When the dissension became violent, the tribune, fearing that they would tear Paul to pieces, ordered the soldiers to go down, take him by force, and bring him into the barracks.
That night the Lord stood near him and said, ‘Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.’

The Plot to Kill Paul
In the morning the Jews joined in a conspiracy and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. There were more than forty who joined in this conspiracy. They went to the chief priests and elders and said, ‘We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the council must notify the tribune to bring him down to you, on the pretext that you want to make a more thorough examination of his case. And we are ready to do away with him before he arrives.’
Now the son of Paul’s sister heard about the ambush; so he went and gained entrance to the barracks and told Paul. Paul called one of the centurions and said, ‘Take this young man to the tribune, for he has something to report to him.’ So he took him, brought him to the tribune, and said, ‘The prisoner Paul called me and asked me to bring this young man to you; he has something to tell you.’ The tribune took him by the hand, drew him aside privately, and asked, ‘What is it that you have to report to me?’ He answered, ‘The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire more thoroughly into his case. But do not be persuaded by them, for more than forty of their men are lying in ambush for him. They have bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink until they kill him. They are ready now and are waiting for your consent.’ So the tribune dismissed the young man, ordering him, ‘Tell no one that you have informed me of this.’

Paul Sent to Felix the Governor
Then he summoned two of the centurions and said, ‘Get ready to leave by nine o’clock tonight for Caesarea with two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen. Also provide mounts for Paul to ride, and take him safely to Felix the governor.’ He wrote a letter to this effect:

‘Claudius Lysias to his Excellency the governor Felix, greetings. This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them, but when I had learned that he was a Roman citizen, I came with the guard and rescued him. Since I wanted to know the charge for which they accused him, I had him brought to their council. I found that he was accused concerning questions of their law, but was charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. When I was informed that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they have against him.’

So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him during the night to Antipatris. The next day they let the horsemen go on with him, while they returned to the barracks. When they came to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they presented Paul also before him. On reading the letter, he asked what province he belonged to, and when he learned that he was from Cilicia, he said, ‘I will give you a hearing when your accusers arrive.’ Then he ordered that he be kept under guard in Herod’s headquarters.

A Clear Conscience
R. B. Rackham has written concerning Paul’s use of the word ‘conscience,’ “The conscience is a consciousness which bears testimony with, or to, our personality within; and the subject matter of the testimony is the moral value of actions, the testimony itself being a pronouncement whether they are right or wrong. A good conscience gives a good verdict, and this it can only do if the faculty of judgment is itself clear” [in 549:449]. Whatever Paul intended in Acts 23, what he said angered the high priest enough to have him slapped
around. It is difficult to imagine why it was as offensive as it was, unless he was deliberately suggesting that no one in that chamber could have a clear conscience, and that does not appear to be the case. Perhaps just claiming innocence offended Ananias. Whatever the case Paul’s response indicates that he is not at all cowed by the legal process or his judges. Whether this is because he is aware that his formal hearing will not take place before the Sanhedrin, or because he is so relaxed in Christ that whatever happens is alright with him. This latter attitude was not unlike that of Jesus going to the cross. They answered differently, Jesus never giving passionate offense while Paul was unconcerned that he gave offense. Still the confidence lying behind their lack of fear was similar.

The conspiracy of the 40 men with the chief priests and the elders was itself pretty bold. They must have known that the tribune was in a compromised position.

from Better Than Gold
Abram J. Ryan, 1838-1886

Better than gold is a conscience clear,
Though toiling for bread in an humble sphere,
Doubly blessed with content and health,
Untried by the lusts and cares of wealth,
Lowly living and lofty thought
Adorn and ennoble a poor man’s cot;
For mind and morals in nature’s plan
Are the genuine tests of an earnest man.

Friday, January 26, 2007

A Confusion: Acts 22 with poem by George Wither, The Conversion of S. Paul

Daily Readings
Psalm 29, Genesis 24, Isaiah 25, Acts 22

Daily Text: Acts 22

‘Brothers and fathers, listen to the defence that I now make before you.’
When they heard him addressing them in Hebrew, they became even more quiet. Then he said:

‘I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today. I persecuted this Way up to the point of death by binding both men and women and putting them in prison, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can testify about me. From them I also received letters to the brothers in Damascus, and I went there in order to bind those who were there and to bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment.

Paul Tells of His Conversion
‘While I was on my way and approaching Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” I answered, “Who are you, Lord?” Then he said to me, “I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.” Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. I asked, “What am I to do, Lord?” The Lord said to me, “Get up and go to Damascus; there you will be told everything that has been assigned to you to do.” Since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, those who were with me took my hand and led me to Damascus.

‘A certain Ananias, who was a devout man according to the law and well spoken of by all the Jews living there, came to me; and standing beside me, he said, “Brother Saul, regain your sight!” In that very hour I regained my sight and saw him. Then he said, “The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear his own voice; for you will be his witness to all the world of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you delay? Get up, be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name.”

Paul Sent to the Gentiles
‘After I had returned to Jerusalem and while I was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw Jesus saying to me, “Hurry and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.” And I said, “Lord, they themselves know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believed in you. And while the blood of your witness Stephen was shed, I myself was standing by, approving and keeping the coats of those who killed him.” Then he said to me, “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.” ’

Paul and the Roman Tribune
Up to this point they listened to him, but then they shouted, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.’ And while they were shouting, throwing off their cloaks, and tossing dust into the air, the tribune directed that he was to be brought into the barracks, and ordered him to be examined by flogging, to find out the reason for this outcry against him. But when they had tied him up with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, ‘Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who is uncondemned?’ When the centurion heard that, he went to the tribune and said to him, ‘What are you about to do? This man is a Roman citizen.’ The tribune came and asked Paul, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ The tribune answered, ‘It cost me a large sum of money to get my citizenship.’ Paul said, ‘But I was born a citizen.’ Immediately those who were about to examine him drew back from him; and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him.

Paul before the Council
Since he wanted to find out what Paul was being accused of by the Jews, the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and the entire council to meet. He brought Paul down and had him stand before them.

A Confusion
There is a confusion in Acts 21 and Acts 22 that is difficult to clarify. That is, whether or not those seeking Paul’s life, on this occasion, are Christians or non-Christian Jews. Obviously, the leadership under James supports Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles. Still James counsels caution for there are thousands of ‘believing’ and observant Jews who have heard that Paul instructs Jews to ignore the Torah and Moses’ recommendations. The leadership knows that is not true, but these Christian Jews do not. They are therefore to be mollified. They are not mollified because some Jews have come from Asia to stir up trouble against Paul, and they do. Ultimately Paul is brought before the Sanhedrin, quite likely made up of very few Christians. So are the Jews rioting for Paul’s life Christians or not? James’ words suggest ‘yes’. The evidence seems to point to Jews not embracing belief in the Messiah. Maybe both are involved.

In Paul’s defense, the riotous crowd listens quietly until Paul mentions that the Lord sent him to the Gentiles. They then erupt. This issue, that of extending the promises of God to the Gentiles, continues to be a volatile one among both Christian Jews and non-Christian Jews. The reason is rather clear. Jewish identity rested in their faith in the one God who had chosen them to be his people. To share that with Gentiles, particularly without requiring them to become Jews, threatens their distinctiveness, their identity. Further, Paul and others make the claim in the New Testament that Christians, whether Jew or Gentile, become the true inheritors of Abraham and Moses. That rankles even today.

The Conversion of S. Paul
George Wither

A blessed conversion, and a strange
Was that, when Saul a Paul became:
And, Lord, for making such a change,
We praise and glorify thy name.
For whilst he went from place to place,
To persecute thy truth and thee;
(And running to perdition was)
By powerful grace called back was he.

When from thy truth we go astray,
(Or wrong it through our blinded zeal)
Oh come, and stop us in the way,
And then thy will to us reveal;
That brightness show us from above
Which proves the sensual eyesight blind:
And from our eyes those scales remove,
That hinder us the way to find.

And as thy blessed servant Paul,
When he a convert once became,
Exceeded thy Apostles all,
In painful preaching of thy name:
So grant that those who have in sin
Exceeded others heretofore,
The start of them in faith may win,
Love, serve, and honor thee the more.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

About Suffering: Acts 21 with poem by W. H. Auden, In Musee des Beaux Arts

Daily Readings
Psalm 27, Genesis 23, Isaiah 23, Acts 21

Daily Text: Acts 21

Paul’s Journey to Jerusalem
When we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. When we found a ship bound for Phoenicia, we went on board and set sail. We came in sight of Cyprus; and leaving it on our left, we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, because the ship was to unload its cargo there. We looked up the disciples and stayed there for seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. When our days there were ended, we left and proceeded on our journey; and all of them, with wives and children, escorted us outside the city. There we knelt down on the beach and prayed and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home.
When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais; and we greeted the believers and stayed with them for one day. The next day we left and came to Caesarea; and we went into the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy. While we were staying there for several days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. He came to us and took Paul’s belt, bound his own feet and hands with it, and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit, “This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.” ’ When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ Since he would not be persuaded, we remained silent except to say, ‘The Lord’s will be done.’

After these days we got ready and started to go up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came along and brought us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to stay.

Paul Visits James at Jerusalem
When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard it, they praised God. Then they said to him, ‘You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow. Join these men, go through the rite of purification with them, and pay for the shaving of their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law. But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent a letter with our judgement that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.’ Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having purified himself, he entered the temple with them, making public the completion of the days of purification when the sacrifice would be made for each of them.

Paul Arrested in the Temple
When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, who had seen him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd. They seized him, shouting, ‘Fellow-Israelites, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place; more than that, he has actually brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.’ For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. Then all the city was aroused, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut. While they were trying to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. Immediately he took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. When they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. Then the tribune came, arrested him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; he inquired who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing, some another; and as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. When Paul came to the steps, the violence of the mob was so great that he had to be carried by the soldiers. The crowd that followed kept shouting, ‘Away with him!’

Paul Defends Himself
Just as Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, ‘May I say something to you?’ The tribune replied, ‘Do you know Greek? Then you are not the Egyptian who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?’ Paul replied, ‘I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of an important city; I beg you, let me speak to the people.’ When he had given him permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the people for silence; and when there was a great hush, he addressed them in the Hebrew language....

About Suffering
With half-a-dozen warnings about going up to Jerusalem, Paul kept his intention clear. He was going, knowing that it would turn out to be uncomfortable. It is to be presumed that he knew the difference between the Lord’s telling him not to go somewhere and the Lord’s telling him that when he does go, suffering, his own suffering will be part of the consequence. He was well-warned by many friends, and not a few prophets by the time he arrived in Jerusalem as recorded in Acts 21.

The persecution he faced in Jerusalem appears to be at the hands of Jewish Christians, rather than Jewish non-Christians. And yet the persecution appears to be similar. It is instigated by non-Christian Jews from Asia, and carried out by Christian Jews from Jerusalem. The issue is his preaching to the Gentiles without requiring them virtually to become Jews. Even though the Jewish church leadership, i.e., James and the elders, did support Paul’s mission to the Gentiles, the rank and file Jewish Christian did not. Even from the earliest time, Christians could be angry with and attack other Christians. Such behavior should have been unacceptable, but in the minds of the perpetrators was not.

In Musée des Beaux Arts
W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking
dully along….
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

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.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Jesus' Baptism: Acts 19 with poem by William Shakespeare, from Comedy of Errors

Daily Readings
Psalm 23, Genesis 21, Isaiah 21, Acts 19

Daily Text: Acts 19

Paul in Ephesus
While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the inland regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— altogether there were about twelve of them.

He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God. When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.

The Sons of Sceva
God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them. Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.’ Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit said to them in reply, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?’ Then the man with the evil spirit leapt on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded. When this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, everyone was awestruck; and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised. Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices. A number of those who practised magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins. So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.

The Riot in Ephesus
Now after these things had been accomplished, Paul resolved in the Spirit to go through Macedonia and Achaia, and then to go on to Jerusalem. He said, ‘After I have gone there, I must also see Rome.’ So he sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he himself stayed for some time longer in Asia.

About that time no little disturbance broke out concerning the Way. A man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the artisans. These he gathered together, with the workers of the same trade, and said, ‘Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business. You also see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost the whole of Asia this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods. And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be scorned, and she will be deprived of her majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her.’

When they heard this, they were enraged and shouted, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ The city was filled with the confusion; and people rushed together to the theatre, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s travelling-companions. Paul wished to go into the crowd, but the disciples would not let him; even some officials of the province of Asia, who were friendly to him, sent him a message urging him not to venture into the theatre. Meanwhile, some were shouting one thing, some another; for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. Some of the crowd gave instructions to Alexander, whom the Jews had pushed forward. And Alexander motioned for silence and tried to make a defence before the people. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours all of them shouted in unison, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ But when the town clerk had quietened the crowd, he said, ‘Citizens of Ephesus, who is there that does not know that the city of the Ephesians is the temple-keeper of the great Artemis and of the statue that fell from heaven? Since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. You have brought these men here who are neither temple-robbers nor blasphemers of our goddess. If therefore Demetrius and the artisans with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls; let them bring charges there against one another. If there is anything further you want to know, it must be settled in the regular assembly. For we are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.’ When he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.

Jesus’ Baptism
Two issues seem to be paramount in Acts 19 for the young church: the question of John’s vs. Jesus’ baptism and the possibility that converts to the faith might adversely affect the economy of the local culture.

If Paul actually re-baptized these twelve believers in Ephesus it is the only example of rebaptism in the New Testament. It will be my assertion that he did not re-baptize them in water, but that Jesus’ baptism, from early in the church’s history had a different connotation and that was that baptism with the Holy Spirit was Jesus’ baptism. This is the common understanding in all three of the synoptic Gospels (Mt. 3:11, 12; Mark 1:7, 8; Luke 3:16-17). Since these Gospels reflect a common source, that same source would have been available to Luke when he later wrote the Acts of the Apostles. Therefore what Paul did for these twelve was the laying on of hands. He baptized them by the laying of hands and with this act came the realized power of the Holy Spirit in their lives, a power they had not previously known. For Jesus what was important was making all of the formerly sacramental and symbolic acts of godliness real. And ‘realness’ comes through the power of the Spirit of God. That was demonstrated in this very chapter by the seven sons of Sceva! I’m reminded of Robert Browning’s poem, Religion.

Religion’s all or nothing; it’s no mere smile
O’ contentment, sigh of aspiration, sir—
No quality o’ the finelier-tempered clay
Like its whiteness or its lightness; rather, stuff
O’ very stuff, life of life, and self of self.

In the contemporary world the early Pentecostals had it right. And they did not have it right because of their superior theological understanding, but because they, like the twelve in Ephesus, experienced the power of God in the outpouring of the Spirit.

Demetrius, the silversmith, probably over reacted, but he understood fully that a population converted to Jesus Christ would affect his income radically. Likewise, if Christians today really became serious about shunning the idolatry of materialism that is practiced in so-called honor of the birth of Christ on December 25th each year, our merchants would be screaming just as loudly. It has happened to some extent with the efforts made by a few leading Fundamentalists in this country, but they have not been joined seriously by a significant number of Christians so the cries of the merchants are rather muted. What if we all took the $100’s or $1000,s of dollars we spend each year at Christmas and gave that money to the poor through groups like Habitat for Humanity or The Heifer Project, what then? We too might see an uproar like that seen in Ephesus.

from Comedy of Errors
Act I, Scene ii, lines 97 ff.
William Shakespeare

They say this town is full of cozenage,
As, nimble jugglers that deceive the eye,
Dark-working sorcerers that change the mind,
Soul-killing witches that deform the body,
Disguised cheaters, prating mountebanks,
And many such-like liberties of sin.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Clarity: Acts 18 with poem by Rudyard Kipling, Gallio's Song

Daily Readings
Psalm 22, Genesis 20, Isaiah 20, Acts 18

Daily Text: Acts 18

Paul in Corinth
After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers. Every sabbath he would argue in the synagogue and would try to convince Jews and Greeks.

When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that the Messiah was Jesus. When they opposed and reviled him, in protest he shook the dust from his clothes and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.’ Then he left the synagogue and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshipper of God; his house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the official of the synagogue, became a believer in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul became believers and were baptized. One night the Lord said to Paul in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to harm you, for there are many in this city who are my people.’ He stayed there for a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal. They said, ‘This man is persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to the law.’ Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, ‘If it were a matter of crime or serious villainy, I would be justified in accepting the complaint of you Jews; but since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves; I do not wish to be a judge of these matters.’ And he dismissed them from the tribunal. Then all of them seized Sosthenes, the official of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of these things.

Paul’s Return to Antioch
After staying there for a considerable time, Paul said farewell to the believers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had his hair cut, for he was under a vow. When they reached Ephesus, he left them there, but first he himself went into the synagogue and had a discussion with the Jews. When they asked him to stay longer, he declined; but on taking leave of them, he said, ‘I will return to you, if God wills.’ Then he set sail from Ephesus.
When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch. After spending some time there he departed and went from place to place through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.

Ministry of Apollos
Now there came to Ephesus a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria. He was an eloquent man, well-versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the Way of the Lord; and he spoke with burning enthusiasm and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the Way of God to him more accurately. And when he wished to cross over to Achaia, the believers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. On his arrival he greatly helped those who through grace had become believers, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Messiah is Jesus.

The clarity with which those early Christians based Jesus heritage as Messiah on the prophetic word has long been lost to Christian teaching. It is not very convincing any longer in the Western Church and it is to be presumed that this is a result of critical scholarship. And yet it was convincing for those early apologists. Acts 18 reinforces this in the teaching of Paul, Aquilla and Priscilla, as well as in that of Apollos. Also missing from much of the present church is this clear teaching that Jesus is Lord and that every person needs to recognize him as such. So then, every person must be confronted with his Lordship and given the opportunity to accept it or reject it. Where ever in the church this doctrine, issuing in fervent evangelism, is missing or unenthusiastically taught, there the power of the Spirit and new believers are missing, as well. The ‘burning enthusiasm’ of Apollos is to be commended.

Gallio’s Song
Rudyard Kipling

All day long to the judgment-seat
The crazed Provincials drew—
All day long at their ruler’s feet
Howled for the blood of the Jew.
Insurrection with one accord
Banded itself and woke,
And Paul was about to open his mouth
When Achaia’s Deputy spoke—

“Whether the God descend from above
Or the Man ascend upon high,
Whether this maker of tents be Jove
Or a younger deity—
I will be no judge between your gods
And your godless bickerings.
Lictor, drive them hence with rods—
I care for none of these things!

One thing only I see most clear,
As I pray you also see.
Claudius Cæsar hath sent me here
Rome’s Deputy to be.
It is Her peace that ye go to break—
Not mine, nor any king’s.
But, touching your clamour of ‘Conscience sake,’
I care for none of these things.

Whether ye rise for the sake of a creed,
Or riot in hope of spoil,
Equally will I punish the deed,
Equally check the broil;
Nowise permitting injustice at all
From whatever doctrine it springs—
But—whether ye follow Priapus or Paul,
I care for none of these things!”