This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Paul in Ephesus
19While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the inland regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples.2He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’3Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism.’4Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.’5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.6When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied—7altogether there were about twelve of them.
8 He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God.9When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.*10This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.
Armed with all the aids of modern knowledge and technology, and even with a abilty to speak some Spanish, I arrived in Spain last Friday to climb in the Sierra Nevadas with my brother. Nevertheless I found just the experience of being in a new place and with unfamiliar people a little stressful until we received a warm welcome from our hotel owner and his staff. So I think with great admiration of Paul, journeying through utterly unfamilar territories, delighted to find fellow Jews, but often becoming unacceptable to them because of his message. He’s one of the great travellers in history especially because he tavelled in order to tell a story which he thought would enrich the lives of those who heard it. Ephesus became his main headquarters for two years. This is mentioned only in passing by Luke but I think it’s also the city where Paul was imprisoned for a a period of time, and from where he wrote many of his letters. You can read a fictional account of this in my book on Paul. (Paul: an unauthorised autobiography. by Mike Mair published Kindle).
This is the only evidence in Scripture of “disciples of John the Baptist” outside Palestine. There’s no doubt that the gospel writers saw him and presented him as no more than the forerunner of Messiah Jesus, but it’s less likely that John saw himself as such. Probably the gospel’s presentation of John is an indication of the way the Christian mission had evolved a special message for disciples of John. Luke (the author of The Acts) tells us that the Ephesus twelve were baptised and spoke with tongues-the latter being an important accompaniment of conversion in Luke’s thinking but not as we know, in Paul’s: “Though I speak in the tongues of men and angels and have not love, I am just like the old religions with the noise of gong and cymbal.” Of course Paul would have agreed that ecstatic utterances could be helpful, and Luke would have agreed that they were not as important as love; the difference is one of emphasis. Still we can see in this example that even at an early date in its development there were different ways of thinking about Jesus and different styles of worship and discipleship. The attempt to make the New Testament speak with one voice only is an authoritarian simplification which deprives us of the variety of Christian belief and leads us to have thousands more denominations than Jesus had disciples. We don’t need to be Baptists, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Lutherans and so on if we trust the message of God’s kingdom in Jesus and love our neighbours.
The Temptation of Jesus
4Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished.3The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’4Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.” ’
5 Then the devil* led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.6And the devil* said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’8Jesus answered him, ‘It is written,
“Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” ’
9 Then the devil* took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here,10for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you”,
“On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’
12Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
The German Christian martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote of this passage that Jesus was tempted “in his flesh, in his faith and in his allegiance to God.” This interptetation emphasises Jesus’ human weakness in his need for food; the fragility of his faith in its need for miracles; and his reluctance to accept the ways of God rather than the power of the world. If he had not experienced this weakness, this fragility, this reluctance, he could not have been tempted. If he had not learned of God through the scriptures he might not have been able to resist. I have often written that Jesus was not born with a “Son of God” implant in his head, but had to learn, throughout his life and even in his dying, how to be God’s son. The gospels tell us a little of Jesus’ struggles with his calling. We must consider them with profound respect as encouragement in our own struggles. In his own imprisonment and torture by Nazis, Bonhoeffer wrote of Jesus:”only a suffering God can help.”