8 May. Wednesday in the Sixth Week of Easter

Acts 17:15ff. Paul’s ingenious sermon in the Areopagus: leading from the known to the unknown God.

John 16:12ff. All will be made clear, when the Spirit of truth comes.

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

Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and 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 and 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

“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.

Making Things Clear

Paul recognized in the Areopagus at Athens the beauty of God’s creatures, as carved out of marble. The Greeks exulted in the perfect expression of the human form and carved some of the most exquisite statues of male and female as created by God. Further, their temples to Athena and all the deities remain wonders of the world even today. By these statues and architectural achievements the Greeks sought to communicate with others and to commune within themselves about this wonderful mystery of human nature.

John’s gospel for today also alludes to the mystery of human life. We receive the Spirit who gradually reveals what we cannot bear to receive all at once right now. This Spirit has absorbed and has actually become the mysterious life uniting the Father and Son in the Holy Trinity. The Spirit shares, like Jesus, in the fullness of God’s life and of God’s love for us, and as Jesus says “will guide you to all truth … will speak what he hears and will announce to you the things to come. He will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

Paul tried to win over the Greeks to the deeper mystery in human life when he spoke on the Areopagus. He directed attention to the altar inscribed “To a God Unknown,” and said: “What worship in ignorance I intend to make known to you.” He ended his polished, well-articulated and carefully reasoned speech with an idea that leaped beyond reason, referring to Jesus whom God has raised from the dead. At that point some sneered, while others said, ‘We must hear from you on this some other time.’ Maybe we’ll have time for you some other time, maybe not! Yet, one member of the Areopagus, by name Dionysius, and a woman named Damaris, and a few others became believers in Jesus.

But even if his message was not receive well at the time, Paul had pointed out some deep truths about God, “it is he who gives to all life and breath and everything else. From one stock he made every nation of humankind to dwell on the face of the earth … ‘for we are his offspring’ and he calls on all men and women everywhere to reform their lives.”

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