16th May. Wednesday of the 6th Week of Easter
Acts 17:15ff. Paul’s clever sermon in the Areopagus, to lead them to the true God.
John 16:12ff. All will be made clear, when the Spirit of truth comes.
Making Things Clear
Paul recognized at the Areopagus in the heart of Athens the wonderful, exquisite beauty of artistic creations, carved out of marble. The Greeks exulted in the perfect expression of the human form and carved some of the finest 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 their 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 awesome potential of human intelligence. We receive the Spirit of God, who gradually reveals what we cannot bear to receive all at once. This Spirit has absorbed and has actually become the mysterious life uniting the Father and Son in the Holy Trinity. Earlier, on Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter, Jesus had stated that the Father reveals everything to him. This “truth” of all life and hope, which comes from the Father and becomes the Son, now unites them so closely as to become the person of the Holy Spirit. This Spirit receives, like Jesus, the mystery of God’s life and desires, and fulfils Jesus’ desire of making this truth a part of our own life. Jesus says in today’s gospel: the Spirit of truth … will guide you to all truth … will speak what he hears and will announce to you the things to come. In doing this he will give glory to me.
While the Greeks identified human nobility with the surface beauty of male and female forms, with majestic structures, or with philosophical concepts, John’s gospel recognizes the presence of this mystery more deeply at the roots of our being, far beyond our control, rooted in the mystery of God’s secret life as Father, Son and Spirit. Therefore, what we are in our depths, and are to become, cannot be expressed in statues or philosophical concepts.
When he spoke on the Areopagus Paul tried to win over the Greeks to the divine mystery in human life. He directed their attention to the altar inscribed “To a God Unknown.” He went on to say: “What you are thus worshiping in ignorance I intend to make known to you.” Paul ended his polished, well-articulated speech with an idea that leaped beyond reason and denied the perfection of human nature as it appeared now to the Greeks. He referred to Jesus whom God “has endorsed in the sight of all by raising him from the dead.” At that point, “some sneered, while others said, ‘We must hear from you on this topic some other time.'” At best he received a polite and condescending smile: maybe we’ll have time for this kind of talk some other time, maybe not! Yet, one member of the court of the Areopagus, by name Dionysius, and a woman named Damaris, and a few others became believers in Jesus.
Christianity insists that perfection is not a human product, it cannot be achieved by even our best efforts, whether individually or communally. Perfection exists as a hope, a hope so exalted, so demanding, so mysterious, that it can sustain a person through martyrdom, as it did Jesus and eventually Paul, or amid heroic suffering or contemplative prayer. The Spirit of truth seeks to so unite men and women in the same bond of love, equal dignity and respect, that it can be compared with the bond uniting Father, Son and Spirit in the Holy Trinity.
The unknown God, (agnostos theos) worshipped by the Greeks, does not dwell in statues or sanctuaries. Rather as Paul pointed out, “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 so] he calls on people everywhere to reform their lives.” Jesus sends the Spirit to reveal such expectations little by little. In possessing the Spirit we have within us the Person of God, the full message of Jesus, the pledge of what we are to become by dying and rising with him.
First Reading: Acts 17:15, 22-18:1
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
“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.