In Acts, Paul gives us his only fully developed speech to a Gentile audience. Absent from today’s proclamation are verses 16-21 in chapter 17 where we read that Paul is speaking to Stoic and Epicurean philosophers who have actually requested he come so that they may learn about this new teaching. Although skeptical, Paul has their interest ……..until he started moving too far beyond their world view—what they were capable of absorbing.
Aware of his audience, prior to this event, Paul, “walking around, looking carefully at (your) shrines” finds an acceptable place to begin. Starting with an “altar to an Unknown God” he shares all he understands about this God who is known to him. He even quotes the ancient Stoic poet, Aratus, “for we too are his offspring” as well as a sixth-century B.C. author, Epimenides of Knosses, “In him we live and move and have our being” the latter verse having become one of the highest theological understandings in the New Testament.
Like Jesus in Gospel encounters, Paul meets the Athenians where they are –he carefully finds a common thread. Yet, far from diluting the message, he fully communicates his understanding of the risen Christ.
In a switch from the first reading, Jesus explains that he has more to share which they cannot understand now. With the benefit of hindsight they come to believe in the power of his presence with them through the Holy Spirit—and they act on this belief.
Sometimes we are challenged to stretch our understanding of the movement of God in our lives, to find that deeper reality and grow in spiritual maturity rather then ask to be told some other time.
Then, taking careful steps to understand our own motives in line with God’s will, we are invited to look for that common thread, to share the Good News to a world not always receptive to hearing the message, and trust the Holy Spirit will bring us all to experience God’s Glory—eternally.
Jean Bowler is a retreatant at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in Sierra Madre, and a member of the Office of Mission Effectiveness Board of Holy Cross Province.