Through the Rose Window: More thoughts on Acts 17:22-31

More thoughts on Acts 17:22-31

A couple of weeks ago, I preached on Paul’s time in Athens.  One facet of the passage that I didn’t have time for in my message was the “intellectual hospitality[1]” modeled by the Athenians and Paul.

We live in an era of “knee-jerk reactions,” where we are so quick to point out another’s hypocrisy, without considering our own.  It’s as if we can use someone else’s hypocrisy as a shield for us to avoid taking responsibility for our own bad behavior.

I am facebook friends with people of a variety of political leanings, and my feed is filled with outraged hypotheticals:

“If Obama had done it, conservatives would have gone nuts!” 

. . .and gleeful retributive musings:

“I bet this will make liberals’ heads spin!”

I look at discussions around news and politics right now and I think our whole country needs a mother to come in and wash our mouths out with soap. 

The Apostle Paul knew that to make progress with someone who disagreed with you, you must first see things through their eyes.  He knew that even the most solid arguments go nowhere when they aren’t approached with compassion and love.         

Paul was a passionate guy, and as a life-long Jew, idol-worship would have no doubt been upsetting to him.  He could have walked into Athens and started destroying idols, all for the sake of defending the Ten Commandments.  He could have berated the Athenians about how ridiculous it is to worship something you have made with your own hands.  He could have fired off a snarky tweet to embarrass them before the whole Roman world (okay, so maybe not that last one). 

But look at what Paul did instead.  He walked around.  He looked at the things that were important to them.  He studied their poets, and engaged them on their own terms.  He was quite clear in his own convictions, but he also was quite clear on theirs. 

What is more, look at how the Athenians responded to his new ideas—they actually listened!  In fact, they asked him to come tell them more! 

There are serious problems in our country, and there are serious matters about which we disagree.  But, when we can’t even get to discussing those matters, because we are so distracted by the “noise” of our childish “I know you are but what am I”-type bickering, we’ll never get anywhere.

Paul’s approach did not end with everyone changing their minds (only a few did), but I imagine everyone left the Areopagus that day feeling heard, respected, and understood.  If we practiced this kind of “intellectual hospitality,” we might just find our knees slower to “jerk” and a range of good options before us for tackling some of our most challenging problems.

May we strive to be like Paul and the Athenians.

Rev. Emily Slade

Minister of Children and Visitation


[1] McClure, John S.  “Exegetical Perspective: Acts 17:22-31.”  Feasting on the Word. Ed. David Bartlet and Barbara Brown Taylor. Year A Vol. 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010. Print.