Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday in Pentecost, Proper 19: Paul the polarizer

Opening Sentence
Their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world. Psalm 19:4

Hail, Gladdening Light (Phos Hilaron)

Commemoration: Matthew
We thank thee, heavenly Father, for the witness of your apostle and evangelist Matthew to the Gospel of your Son our Savior; and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 73

Lessons: Esther 1:1-4, 10-19; Acts 17:1-15; John 12:36-43

By post-modern standards, Paul is what would be called a "polarizing figure." His preaching divides synagogues and entire cities. But he always manages to find believers in every town, both Jew and Greek, men and women. Trouble arises, however, when his opponents from one town follow him into the next. The "noble" Jews in Berea "received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so" (v. 11). But the Jews from Thessalonica, upon hearing this news, roll into town to stir up trouble just as they had in their own city (vv. 5-9).

Here is illustrated the double-edged sword of the word of God. With one edge, it cuts down the division between Jew and Greek, making one new man out of the two. With the other edge, it divides believer from non-believer, exposing the jealousy and selfish motivations of those who would keep the message of salvation as their own private possession.

Paul proclaimed the Gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ to all people, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Among those who believed, both Jew and Greek, the dividing wall of hostility was broken down. Among those who did not believe, both Jew and Greek, anger and hostility borne of jealousy and selfishness simmered to the surface. Such is the case whenever and wherever the Gospel is preached.