“Word for Today” – Acts 14 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

October 8, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

Pizza 1One afternoon, a long time ago, I was planning to host a night of food and football with some friends.  After thinking about what dish I could prepare for what was to be a television watching, small talk making, male-bonding event, I finally settled on the perfect cuisine for any and every gathering of carnivorous males:  pizza.  I would make a pizza – with lots of pepperoni, beef, Italian sausage, and ham, of course.  After carefully preparing and baking my cholesterol laden, artery clogging masterpiece, I proudly pulled it from the oven.  But then, it happened.  As I removed my pizza, my finger slipped off the potholder right into the middle of a bubbling, skin-searing mound of cheese.  “Ouch!” I yelped, as I began to lose my grip on the pizza.  And before I knew it, my culinary tour de force was lying toppings-down on the kitchen floor.

Immediately, my mind began to race:  “What do I do?  I don’t have time to make another pizza.  But I can’t serve my buddies a pizza I just dropped on the floor.  Wait!  The five second rule!  But it’s already been ten seconds.  Okay, the ten second rule!  It’ll be fine.  After all, what they don’t know won’t hurt them.”

“What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”  Maybe you’ve said these words before too.  You made a mistake that no one knows about.  You received credit for something that really wasn’t due you.  Sure, you could say something, but what people don’t know won’t hurt them.  Right?

Our reading for today from Acts 14 relays what is one of the most peculiar encounters that Paul and Barnabas have in all their travels.  It takes place in Lystra after Paul has healed crippled man in front of a large crowd:

When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them. (verses 11-13)

This crowd’s bazaar actions, it seems, stem from an ancient legend, told by the Roman poet Ovid that, once upon a time, the gods Zeus and Hermes visited the Phrygian hill country, disguised as mortals, looking for a place to stay.  After asking at a thousand homes, and being rejected by all of them, they came to the shack of an elderly husband and wife, Pilemon and Baucis, meagerly cobbled out of straw and reeds.  This tender couple welcomed the gods.  In gratitude, Zeus and Hermes transformed their shack into a temple with a golden roof and marble columns.  Lystra’s current residents, seeing Paul’s miraculous healing, seem to think that, once again, “the gods have come down in human form,” and seem determined not to miss their chance to be hospitable to them.

It is at this point that Paul and Barnabas have a decision to make.  Do they tell these misguided superstitionists that they’re not really divine or do they just keep quiet and receive their frenzied adoration and adulation?  After all, what they don’t know won’t hurt them.  Right?

Paul and Barnabas opt for honesty over accolades:

Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. (verse 15)

Shortly thereafter, Luke tells us:  “Some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over.  They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city” (verse 19).  From acclaim to attempted execution, all in four verses – that’s what Paul gets for telling the truth.

Do you ever withhold the truth and simply receive what comes your way, even when you know it is not rightfully yours?  When the grocery store cashier inadvertently forgets to charge you for an item, do you point out the oversight?  When the ticket office at the brand new Cowboys Stadium accidently gives you much better seats to the game than you paid for, do you mention it to the attendant?  Or, do you simply excuse yourself from any culpability by whispering under your breath, “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”

One of the great calls to Christianity is its call to honesty.  In the gospels, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth” some seventy eight times.  Clearly, Christianity is obsessed with the truth and with telling the truth.  For, in the final analysis, Christianity teaches that what people don’t know can hurt them. As Paul later says to those in Athens, “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).  What you don’t know can not only hurt you, it can damn you.  Thus, we are called to tell the truth, especially the truth about God.  So share the truth – about yourself, about others, and about God – today and every day.

Entry filed under: Word for Today.

“Word for Today” – Acts 13 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com “Word for Today” – Acts 15 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

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