Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Reflections on Itinerant Paul and Hostility

The years AD 49 to 61 were the twelve most important in the life of the apostle Paul. During those years he shared the good news about an unconventional Jesus with people in the Levant, Anatolia, Hellenia, and Latinia. He started several new congregations of unconventional witnesses. Most importantly, he defended the unconventionality of his witness and theirs in a short series of letters. These letters later gained world-historical significance as part of the New Testament of the Christian Bible. Without them we would witness much less clearly to Jesus: the one odd god/man of freedom, truth, love, and vitality.

Yes, the witness of Paul was and remains that important. But the profound significance of his witness made Paul’s life much more difficult. He witnessed to Jesus in a world that had always been Olympian, in Jewish synagogues that had become Olympian, and in opposition to Church leaders who remained Olympian.

Olympianity has always been the religion of power. Olympians always meet challenges to their beliefs, values, norms, goals, and stories with whatever is needed, from ridicule to murder, to end them.

Paul witnessed to Jesus in a world that had always been Olympian. In Philippi, two wealthy Olympians managed to get Paul beaten by local authorities and jailed overnight. Intellectual leaders in Athens found his witness laughable. Artisans in Ephesus, losing money as Paul drew Olympians away from the Temple of Artemis and toward Jesus, caused so much trouble that Paul had to leave the city. Olympian rulers happily kept Paul in prison for five long years before dismissing the case against him.

Paul witnessed to Jesus in Jewish synagogues that had become Olympian. His co-religionists in Thessalonica managed to cause such a commotion that Paul’s unconventional new companions thought it best for him to leave the city. Later his new companions faced persecution themselves. Trouble followed him to Berea and he had to leave again. On his trip to Jerusalem in 56, Paul was almost murdered by his co-religionists and, to avoid that, had to spend the next five years in prison.

Ironically, Paul witnessed to Jesus in opposition to Church leaders who nonetheless remained Olympian. Barnabas refused to work with him. James the brother of Jesus, leader of the church in Jerusalem, mistakenly opposed Paul’s witness to Jesus. James sent representatives to the churches Paul had started in Galatia and Corinth and turned some of Paul’s new companions against him. Paul even had to publicly confront Peter in Antioch when Peter backed away from affirming the freedom of Jesus in fear of representatives from James.

We might imagine that, if we are good Christians, then Jesus will bless us with happiness in this life and the next. Or at least, if we are good Christians, then people will like us. Or maybe even, if we are happy and popular, then we must be good Christians.

In truth, the more we are like Jesus, or the more we are like Paul in the clarity of his witness to Jesus, the more we will suffer. In truth, to live as a witness to Jesus is to embrace suffering we could otherwise easily avoid.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci.
All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.