04 May. Wednesday, Week 6 of Easter

1st Reading: Acts 17:15, 22-18:1

Paul’s clever sermon in the Areopagus, to lead the Greeks to the true God

Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; an after receiving instructions to have Silas and Timothy join him as soon as possible, they left him.

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.” (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus an said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him?though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “In him we live and move and have our being;’ as even some of your own poets have said, “For we too are his offspring.” Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, “We will hear you again about this.” At that point Paul left them. But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them. After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.

Gospel: John 16:12-15

All will be made clear, when the Spirit of truth comes

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.


Recognising the unknown God

At the Areopagus in the heart of Athens, Paul recognized the wonderful, exquisite beauty of artworks carved out of marble. The Greeks admired perfect artistic expression of the human form and carved some of the finest of all statues of male and female deities. Their temples to Athena and other gods of their pantheon remain wonders of the world even today. By their statuary and architecture the Greeks sought to communicate with others and to commune among themselves about this wonders of the world and of human nature.

Addressing the Athenians Paul tried to win them over to appreciate the divine influence on all human life. He pointed to the altar inscribed “To a God Unknown.” and declared, “What you are thus worshipping in ignorance I intend to make known to you.” He ends his polished, well-articulated speech with an idea that leaped beyond reason and beyond any perfection of human nature as it appeared to the Greeks. When he affirmed that God has endorsed Jesus in the sight of all by raising him from the dead, he lost his audience. That was the point when “some sneered, while others said, ‘We must hear from you on this some other time.’” At best he received a polite, condescending smile: maybe we’ll get back to this later, but maybe not! Yet, a tiny minority did become believers in Jesus, a man called Dionysius and a woman named Damaris and a few others. They came to know that the unknown God, (agnostos theos ) of the Greeks does not dwell in statues or sanctuaries. Rather as Paul held, “it is he who gives to all life and breath and everything else.” Jesus sends the Spirit to reveal the fullness of things little by little. By the Spirit we have within us the Person of God, the life-giving message of Jesus, the pledge of what we are to become by dying and rising with him.

Growing in insight

There is only so much that people can learn at each stage of their lives. The great life-truths take a long time to absorb. This is certainly the case with the elements of our faith. We enter into those truths gradually, over time, with the unfolding experience of life. Jesus seems to acknowledge this in today’s gospel. He tells his disciples that he has many things to say to them but that they are not yet ready to hear them, “they would be too much for you now.” Jesus declares that the Paraclete, the Spirit of Truth, who will be sent to them after Jesus’ death and resurrection, will begin to reveal these things to them and will lead them towards the complete truth. The Holy Spirit is given to us all to lead us to the complete truth, the truth about Jesus, God, our world, ourselves. This is a life-long journey. Indeed, there is a sense in which we never attain the complete truth in this life. We are always on the way. We can never really afford to say, “I have the complete truth.” Rather, we must always leave ourselves open to being led by the Spirit ever more closely towards the complete truth, towards the one who said of himself, “I am the truth.” [MH]

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