Sunday, July 1, 2012

Acts, Chapter 17: How NOT to deal with culture shock

Our little band of merry zealots comes to Thessolonica, where they find a synagogue and immediately go inside to start arguing with people on the sabbath that Jesus is the Messiah. A few people believe him, including some of the Greeks and some of the women leaders.

But of course, some of the Jews are resentful that someone has come along and interrupted their peaceful Saturday of arguing amongst themselves, and they rustle up a mob to attack the house where Paul and Silas are staying, which belongs to one Jason. Of course the wily apostles have already hidden, so the crowd finds only Jason at home. Nonetheless, they drag him before the tribal elders to accuse him of harbouring the people who are causing the social unrest, claiming that Jesus is the king when obviously Caesar is the only king. Plus, if you, you know, actually read some of the history of Jews in the Roman empire, you know they were plenty capable of fomenting their own social unrest, thank you very much.

The city fathers arrest Jason and his friends and only let them go when they post bail. They go home and ship the apostles off to Berea, where they instantly find a new synagogue congregation to harangue. This group is slightly less hostile and sets about to poring over the scriptures looking for evidence that Jesus could really be the Messiah.

Somehow, the Jews of Thessolonica find out that Paul & Co. are in Berea, through Facebook party photos or some such means, and go there to stir shit up. Paul pretends to flee in a boat, but Silas and Timotheus stay behind.

Paul soon comes to Athens, where he sends for Silas and Tim. As he's waiting, he looks around and sees a city full of sin and idolatry. You know who else did that? Sayyid Qutb, who looked around dry, square, Greely Colorado in 1949, saw a den of iniquity, and went back to Egypt to lead the Muslim Brotherhood. I mean, culture shock and ethnocentrism are not new. Anyway, Paul's reaction to his culture shock is to go out to the synagogues and marketplaces and argue with people. The philosophers, who have cornered the market on sitting around arguing in public, regard him with amused disdain, saying What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection (v. 18). They take him to a city council meeting and ask him to speak, because as cosmopolitan sophisticates, this is how they respond to new ideas, rather than running him out on the rails like those podunk Thessalonicans.

But Paul has no social graces, only fervency, so he immediately starts hectoring them that they're overly superstitious and worship demons. He tells them god doesn't live in temples, although that certainly seemed to be the point of the temple back in um, Numbers? or possibly Leviticus? I'm getting close to 500 posts, so it's hard to keep track. We're told god doesn't need anything from us, and he decides exactly when we'll live and die, and where we'll live. He did all of this so we can seek him out, because he's planning to end the world soon.

Some of the council members mock Paul, others invite him back at an unspecified future date. But apparently not enough of them are convinced, because Paul flounces off, despite winning some new converts.

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