Acts 14-16

There are a couple of funny moments and a few great stories in Acts 14-16, but I guess the question for the night is “Who do you listen to, and what are they keeping you from seeing?”

So the second half of Acts is basically just Paul running around the Mediterranean getting beat up for preaching. But there are a lot of moments between the beatings. Like these:

  • In one town, Paul and his buddy Barnabas heal a guy, and people get so excited that they decide these two are really the Greek gods Zeus and Hermès. They figure Barnabas must be Zeus, because Paul talked too much to be Zeus. The two have to throw a fit to get the local pagan priests to not sacrifice a cow to them.
  • Same town, a little later, the crowd turns on them and they stone Paul and drag him out of the city and leave him there, believing he is dead. The believers gather around him after the mob leaves, probably thinking “Now what do we do,” and Paul pops up and heads back into town. Very Hanna-Barbera.  Also can’t ever question Paul’s gumption; if I were left for dead by an angry mob but somehow survived, my first move would not be to head back into their neighborhood.
  • Paul goes to Jerusalem to talk to the apostles about what he’s doing, and they sign off on the idea that all the Gentiles he’s convincing to join them don’t have to convert to Judaism; they just need to avoid a few pretty clear no-nos and that’s it. Paul promptly picks up a teammate he makes get circumcised. That’s a pretty challenging hazing ritual for a young man.
  • Different town, Paul goes to jail (will tell you why in a minute), and this time, unlike Peter, the angels don’t lead him out. This time, an earthquake opens all the doors and makes all the chains come off and the jailer figures he’s a goner, so he gets ready to kill himself, when Paul yells out in the darkness, “Don’t do it; we’re all still here.” So the jailer converts on the spot. That’s a nice moment. But the next day, the authorities decide to drop charges, and Paul, with all the chutzpah of Ferris Bueller in the fancy restaurant, demands they come down to the jail and apologize to him directly. Which they do.
  • But the best story is how they ended up in jail in the first place (isn’t that always the case?). There’s a woman in town, a slave, who is possessed by an evil spirit that allows her to tell the future, which her owners use to make a lot of money. Pauls runs into her, and she discerns who he is, so she follows him around town yelling “These men are servants of the Most High God! They are going to tell you how you can be saved!”

Now, me, I’d be OK having someone follow me around yelling at everyone that I’m a gift from God who is going to save their lives. I mean, that’s like having your own infomercial, or having that guy who announces at wrestling matches introducing you to every room you enter. How does that get old?

Turns out it does, at least for Paul. He gets so irritated by the incessant yelling (even though it’s true!) that he turns to her and yells SHUT UP ALREADY and commands the evil spirit to scram. Which it does, leaving the slave owners without their moneymaker. Maybe he just needed some quiet to think. So they get Paul thrown in jail.

There’s a lesson about the idolatry of market economics over human dignity in there somewhere, I bet.

But the thing that keeps coming back through these chapters is how the crowds seem to miss the great things that are going on because they are in the thrall of the wrong voices. Paul and his friends are empowered to work wonders and miracles, and only half the town believes. They talk to Gentile people that the Jewish leaders won’t give the time of day to, but in the end those leaders will turn those Gentile people against the guy they thought was so good that he might be a god. Mostly, Paul tells people that God loves them and just wants them to return the favor, but they end up buying into whatever message leads them to throw rocks at Paul until they think he’s dead. 

How does that happen? Do they change their minds and re-wire their memories to take out those awesome things he did and hopeful things he said? Or is it different people, and some people see the miracles and wonders and some don’t, like that dress on the internet a while back that some people thought was white even though it was clearly blue? (Kidding. Put the rocks down.)

I can’t say. But it seems like today there are lots of loud voices clamoring to be listened to. And most of them paint a picture of the world that is compelling and clear-cut enough to make us want to pick up a rock to throw at someone who doesn’t see it the same way “our side” does. 

But as often as Paul got beat up, he never turned the tables. He was as opinionated and strong-willed and hot-tempered as anyone, but he never threw a rock or a punch, and even when people sent mobs after him to kill him, he dusted himself off and moved on. Maybe he insisted on listening to different voices. Maybe the voices he listened to refused to say “write those guys off.” Maybe they refused to paint a picture that made it easy to separate the good people from the bad people. Maybe the voices he listened to were quiet enough that you could hear yourself think. Maybe they pointed out not just the peaks and valleys in people but the nuances, too, the parts that make you see that those people on the other side are first and foremost *people*, not rock targets. And they might even have some miracles and wonders to show you if you let them.

So I guess the question to ask is, what voices are we listening to, and are they trying to get us to throw rocks or notice miracles?

One response to “Acts 14-16”

  1. […] a couple of unnamed tour stops on his way to his hometown, Nazareth. The crowd (much like those in Acts) seems awfully fickle: they are expecting big things, but they also don’t believe that Joseph’s […]

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