In the Bible reading today Justin Welby continues his study of St Paul in the book of Acts
When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him.
Three days later he called together the leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, Paul said to them, "My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar— not that I had any charge to bring against my own people. For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain."
They replied, "We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of the brothers who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect."
They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. From morning till evening he explained and declared to them the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe.
They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement, "The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your forefathers when he said through Isaiah the prophet: 'Go to this people and say, You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.' Therefore I want you to know that God's salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!"
For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 28:16-31)
House arrest rather than trial and death: this cannot have been what Paul expected. He was given two years of work in Rome, and endless ministry and development. But he must have known that danger still lurked; it was asleep, not departed.
The after-effects of danger are increasingly well understood, with much study of post-traumatic stress disorders. They follow all sorts of trials and troubles, whether domestic illness, traumatic events or even war. One response may be risk-aversion, sometimes to an unhealthy extent. Another is recklessness—equally unhealthy—as though we assume that if we have escaped once, no danger can remain. People become reckless with safety, and reckless with relationships. There is often a temptation to do what we choose, an inward-looking selfishness that says, 'I have escaped; normal rules no longer apply to me.' Trauma can haunt us, with bad dreams, flashbacks and mood swings.
What is the rock on which we stand when the tension is released? For Paul, it is the joy of the Lord found in the ministry of the gospel. He is able to get on with doing what he has been called to do, and, in doing so, is bold but not reckless, free without excess. He does not avoid risk by keeping his head down, but nor does he jump about saying, 'See if you can get me!'
Carrying out the ministry that God has put in front of us is some- times a discipline. Having grown up as an only child, I am a great one for dreams and stories in my own mind. I dream about being some- where else, where, of course, the problems of today's job do not apply and I will be a great success. Having come back from a mediation trip in a difficult place, I often succumb to a rather arrogant sense of the smallness of local bits of work.
Paul has spoken to kings and has survived shipwreck, riot and snake- bite, but he neither works himself to death nor takes a well-earned rest. He welcomes everybody, does what is before him, and shares the gospel of the kingdom of God. All continues to revolve around Christ, not himself. Continuing with that day-to-day work after danger is as much a sign of courage as is facing danger itself. It is the courage to live know- ing that Christ sees us in our service to him, even if we are forgotten and obscure. It is a courage that comes with intimacy with him, in silence and, above all, contemplation.
Taken from Guidelines published by Bible Reading Fellowship. Purchase Guidelines from Eden.
(Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (Anglicised edition). Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton publishers. All rights reserved.)
February 10th, 2012 - Posted & Written by Ian Matthews