This past Wednesday the lectionary gave us Paul's famous speech to the Greeks at the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17:22-18:1). It's one of several speeches that Luke, the author of Acts, puts in the mouths of various central characters in Acts as a vehicle to present the teachings of the apostles in the very early days of the church.
Paul did not actually spend a lot of time in Athens, it seems, but his visit gives Luke the opportunity to let his imagination go to work. Here is Paul, highly educated in Greek philosophy and culture as well as in Jewish beliefs and traditions, coming face to face with the pagan philosophers in the very cradle of Greek thought, Athens. Artists and writers have always enjoyed depicting Paul wandering among the shrines and the statues of the Greek Gods.
|Paul preaching at the Areopagus in Athens|
You may remember how the episode begins:
Then Paul stood up at the Areopagus and said: “You Athenians, I see that in every respect you are very religious. For as I walked around looking carefully at your shrines, I even discovered an altar inscribed, ‘To an Unknown God.’ What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all that is in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands because he needs anything. Rather it is he who gives to everyone life and breath and everything. (17:22-25)
|Homer tells it like it is!|
Come to think of it, I bet that if Paul were to deliver such a respectful speech to non-believers today, many committed Christians would protest angrily and accuse him of being "soft on paganism."
We might well pray to Paul to teach us a thing or two about the art of respectful Christian confrontation.