What Provokes You?Fr. Barnabas Powell
What provokes you? Politics? Religion? Race? Inequity? Violence? Chaos (OK, this one is a personal provocation!)? No matter what might provoke you to action, if you allow the provocation to be your primary motivation, you are sure to always be provoked. You see, provocation is a “result”, not a motive. And learning what is behind the reaction is key to being able to discern if the reaction is appropriate or not, healthy or not, or a mixture of all of the above. Being asleep to the WHY means your chances of becoming addicted to the feeling are very high!
But, the power of insight into the reasons why you are provoked or moved to anger or action fills you with FREEDOM; freedom to look closely at your motives and bring the Light of love and piety to bear in discerning the wise way of living. And that, my dearest, is WHY it isn’t in being provoked or not provoked (some of the most mean-spirited people I’ve ever met appeared to be calm) but knowing when my provocations were motivated by life-giving love and when they were not!
Look at our lesson today in Acts 17:16-34. We will stop the quote before Paul finishes his homily, but I hope you read the whole thing!
IN THOSE DAYS, while Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the market place every day with those who chanced to be there. Some also of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers met him. And some said, “What would this babbler say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities” – because he preached Jesus and the resurrection. And they took hold of him and brought him to the Areopagos, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you present? For you bring some strange things to our ears; we wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. So Paul, standing in the middle of the Areopagos, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
Notice what provokes Paul in Athens; the city was “full of idols.” So why does this provoke Paul? Well, because he knows the damage to a soul that idols inflict. To believe in a god that isn’t real is to miss the God Who IS. Paul follows his normal missionary practice in every place he goes. First, he goes to the synagogues and preaches the message of Jesus there, and then he goes to the marketplace because that’s where the people are. I will never forget standing in the Agora (the Marketplace) in Athens and thinking “This is where St. Paul preached first to the Greeks.”
But St. Paul doesn’t attack the pagan Greeks. He starts where they are. He notices the spiritual hunger they have whether they realize it or not. And he tells them about the “unknown god” that they have set up an altar for, just to cover their religious bases! And he recognizes that this city is filled with folks who are constantly trying to hear and talk about “some new thing.” He is provoked to preach by their desire for piety and their habit of gossip! Talk about meeting folks where they are!
The results of his work in Athens are seen to this day. The heritage of the Orthodox Faith is seen all through Greece and the Mediterranean. Paul’s provocation was motivated by love. He was motivated by his love for God and his love for people who were their own worst enemies and, left to themselves without this message of Christ, they would continue in their spiritual slavery to false idols.
Today, what provokes you? What motivates you? Fear? Greed? Passions? You were meant to be motivated and provoked by Love; love for God and love for your neighbor. When you have the courage to truly examine what provokes your actions, you’ll be on your way to true repentance and being Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. O Lord, please help me know myself well enough and deep enough that I will be provoked to action by love and concern for others and not to protect my own ego! Grant me deep insight into myself so that I can discern when to act and how to act to draw those around me to You, and not act in a way that pushes others away from You. Give me Your grace to discipline my motives and not be a slave to unruly passions. Amen