We Bring You “Good News!”Fr. Barnabas Powell
Christ is risen!
She started crying as I shook her hand. She was trembling and crying, and I was both confused and troubled. Her husband stepped in to save the day by explaining “Father, she is very excited to meet you. We were going through a very difficult time when our family found your videos on YouTube. We watched your videos and then started getting the daily devotionals, and it touched us all so deeply. She’s very nervous and very grateful to you.”
What do you say to something like that? I confess I was very uncomfortable and quickly added if they knew me like my wife and kids know me, they wouldn’t be excited to meet me at all!
But it makes sense that people are grateful to God when God uses His creatures to minister to their needs. It is a way of honoring God’s grace in this or that person. It’s why we venerate icons and we even kiss the priest’s hand. In fact, all of what motivates our devotions and pious practices is the attempt to form us into persons who know how to be grateful. But, as usual, this gratitude must always be tempered with pious sobriety. It’s why Jesus calls this Way of Life the “narrow” way. You have to always pay attention if you’re going to get this right!
Look at our lesson today in Acts 14:6-18:
In those days, the apostles fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country; and there they preached the gospel. Now at Lystra there was a man sitting, who could not use his feet; he was a cripple from birth, who had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking; and Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he sprang up and walked. And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, because he was the chief speaker, they called Hermes. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the people. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out among the multitude, crying, “Men, why are you doing this? We also are men, of like nature with you, and bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways; yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” With these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.
St. Paul and St. Barnabas are on one of their missionary journeys and they come across a man who can’t walk. Notice St. Paul can tell this man has faith to be healed. So Paul calls him out and tells him to walk. And the man does! There’s nothing like alleviating suffering to get people’s attention because so many are suffering in one way or another all the time.
Lystra was a typical, Roman village, and the people were followers of the state pagan religion. So, when they saw this great miracle, their first thought was that the gods had come down from Olympus and visited them. The local pagan priests even tried to sacrifice oxen in front of these two disciples of Jesus until they were stopped by the apostles themselves. Of course, this population had been formed for centuries by the notion of many gods, and they had been formed by the notion that if one of the gods did something nice for them, that god expected payment or a
‘thank you” gift. Because if you didn’t say “thank you” to the god, that god would punish you! Amazing how these false beliefs about how to act around God persist, even among Christians who should know better.
Paul and Barnabas insist they are men just like everyone else and they have “Good News” to share! What news? The True God isn’t like the demons masquerading as gods that you have been used to.
So, take away these insights from this story. First alleviating suffering really gets people’s attention. When we are Christ’s Body in our local community, we draw attention to Him when we minister to others, even others that aren’t part of our “group.” Second, don’t be surprised when people are grateful, but be careful to draw their attention to Jesus and off you! And finally, when you have their attention, talk to them about Jesus and not yourself!
On this 4th Wednesday of Pascha, we celebrate an interesting feast that marks the day we are halfway to the Feast of Pentecost. And on this day the Church teaches us to remember that all the scholars of Jesus’ day were amazed and confused by the fact that Jesus had all this wisdom. They couldn’t understand that a brilliant Teacher like Jesus was totally unknown to them and hadn’t attended any of the religious schools or attached Himself to one of their great teachers to learn. The Church takes the two great Hebrew feats of Tabernacles and Pentecost and draws us to consider that Jesus heals the paralytic on the sabbath day during the feast of Tabernacles and was branded a “lawbreaker” by these scholars of the Law and, being halfway to Pentecost, the Church calls us to consider the reality that Jesus ties these two Hebrew feats together by displaying what a Man can know IF He is totally given to the wisdom of God! A man is made free from the false notions about God. A man is set free to give without expecting anything in return when He is humble enough to do the will of the Father, and a man is free from the cares of words of others around him who have not humbled themselves through repentance and love.
Today, as we are at that Mid-Pentecost season in Pascha, let’s keep focused on just how wonderful God living and acting in His people really is! And let us embrace this Resurrected Life that Jesus gives us to share with everyone we can! That’s how you can be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. O sovereign Master and Creator of all things, O Christ our God, You did cry unto those present at the Judaic Mid-feast and address them thus: Come and draw the water of immortality freely. Wherefore, we fall down before You and faithfully cry out: Grant Your compassions unto us, O Lord, for You are truly the Wellspring of life for all.