Scripture Study -- The Acts of the Apostles,

According to the Catholic Study Bible, in Acts Luke has provided a broad survey of the church’s development from the resurrection of Jesus to Paul’s first Roman imprisonment, the point at which the book ends. In Acts, the second volume of his two-volume work, Luke describes the emergence of Christianity from its origins in Judaism to its position as a religion of worldwide status and appeal.

This reflection focuses on the readings for Wednesday, May 20 and Thursday, May 21, 1998—Acts 17:15, 22-18:l-8. For daily Scripture Study, see Today’s Scripture Teaching on our front page index.

Paul’s sermon to the men of Athens is one of the great scenes in Christian history. Finding himself in Athens, he visited the Mars Hill that was filled with shrines to every god in the Greek pantheon. To his surprise, he even found an altar to "The Unknown God." They apparently constructed this altar just in case they had overlooked an important God. Paul took this opportunity to preach a masterful sermon. He began by complimenting the Athenians on their care to worship every god in the heavens, even the unknown god that they had not yet discovered. The Paul explained to them that this Unknown God is the God beyond all gods the Creator and Judge of the entire universe. But when Paul told them that this God had revealed himself through a man that he raised from the dead, they laughed him out of court.

We may marvel that those ancient Athenians were so foolish as to worship many gods but refused to acknowledge the one God of heaven and earth. But have we come so far after all? H. Richard Niebuhr, a twentieth century Protestant theologian, has argued that the natural religion of humankind is polytheism. At the heart of polytheism is not idol worship but the powers that the idols symbolize. The gods of the ancient world symbolized sexual pleasure, physical prowess, economic prosperity, good health, long life, political power. But these are the very things that stand at the center of modern life. Could it be that we are no less guilty of worshipping many "gods" than those ancient pagans? Which gods do we worship—the gods of the pantheon or the God beyond the gods of paganism?

When he began his missionary journeys, Paul had no intention of seeking to save only the Gentiles. In fact, everywhere he went he offered the gospel to the Jews first. He went to their synagogues daily and patiently taught them the scriptures. When the occasion called for it, he engaged in debate with the teachers in the synagogue. But gradually Paul began to lose patience with his fellow countrymen. Rebuffed again and again by their stubbornness, subjected to their violence from time to time, Paul finally changed his mind about his missionary calling. In a dramatic gesture, he shook his garments in protest and declared: "Your blood be on your own heads. I am not to blame! From now on, I will turn to the Gentiles." Finally enough was enough and he turned his energies toward more promising audiences.

That is a difficult place to reach, isn’t it? When is enough enough? How many times must a wife accept her unfaithful husband’s apologies and take him back into her house? How many times must a parent come to the rescue of a reckless child? How many times must a supervisor give another chance to an employee who has made a mess of things? We are taught by our faith to be longsuffering. We are told to forgive others seventy times seventy times. We are told to love others unconditionally as Christ loves us. But how many times must we suffer betrayal before we give up on a bad marriage? How many times do we rescue a wayward child knowing that the child will break our heart again? These are tough questions and there are no clear rules for deciding when enough is enough

May 1998 Edition of the San Francisco Charismatics (ISSN 1098-4046). Read other articles in the May 1998 edition of the San Francisco Charismatics or return to the Main Menu by clicking on the blue.