bible blog 842

This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal readings for today along with a headline from world news:

British PM sells arms in Brazil

Acts 19:21-41

The Riot in Ephesus

21 Now after these things had been accomplished, Paul resolved in the Spirit to go through Macedonia and Achaia, and then to go on to Jerusalem. He said, ‘After I have gone there, I must also see Rome.’22So he sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he himself stayed for some time longer in Asia.

23 About that time no little disturbance broke out concerning the Way.24A man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the artisans.25These he gathered together, with the workers of the same trade, and said, ‘Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business.26You also see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost the whole of Asia this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods.27And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be scorned, and she will be deprived of her majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her.’

28 When they heard this, they were enraged and shouted, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’29The city was filled with the confusion; and people* rushed together to the theatre, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s travelling-companions.30Paul wished to go into the crowd, but the disciples would not let him;31even some officials of the province of Asia,* who were friendly to him, sent him a message urging him not to venture into the theatre.32Meanwhile, some were shouting one thing, some another; for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together.33Some of the crowd gave instructions to Alexander, whom the Jews had pushed forward. And Alexander motioned for silence and tried to make a defence before the people.34But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours all of them shouted in unison, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’35But when the town clerk had quietened the crowd, he said, ‘Citizens of Ephesus, who is there that does not know that the city of the Ephesians is the temple-keeper of the great Artemis and of the statue that fell from heaven?*36Since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash.37You have brought these men here who are neither temple-robbers nor blasphemers of our* goddess.38If therefore Demetrius and the artisans with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls; let them bring charges there against one another.39If there is anything further* you want to know, it must be settled in the regular assembly.40For we are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.’41When he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.

Artemis of Ephesus

Luke was working from very sketchy information about Paul’s mission in Ephesus and like all ancient historians felt quite justified in constructing a version of events, speeches of main characters and the meaning of the incidents. In this case we have some corroboration perhaps, from Paul’s words that he “fought with wild beasts in Ephesus,” not surely a reference to animal but rather human violence. Luke makes the instigation of violence a consequence of commercial interests-which might certainly have contributed, but also gives a vivid picture of offended religious sensibility. This must often have been the case when a misssionary denounced the people’s Gods as idols. The Temple of Diana was one of wonders of the world, a thing of great beauty containing a strange image of the Goddess with multiple small breasts, or perhaps, as some have interpreted them, bull’s testicles. In any case it was a great centre for the cult of Artemis.

Religious offence- and- rage is also a modern phenomenon, often used by sectarian religious leaders to increase their power. It’s often a manufactured thing. Paul on the other hand, while not insulting Atremis, was announcing that she was no God. The offence he caused was real. He did mean that the people had been worshipping a nothing. One of the true tasks of the church is to point out that the things some people worship are no-Gods. Try telling someone that they are not entitled to have two cars, a five bedroomed house and two annual holidays and hear the squeals of rage. These are not just commodities; they are objects of devotion. As for telling very successful people that no-one is entitled to a salary of 5 million a year while others have a dollar a day, and you’ll meet with anger. Take the surplus off them in tax and you instantly become a communist because you’ve attacked the sacred foundation of their lives: greed is good. We have to see the Ephesian reaction to Paul in similar terms.

Luke 4:31-37

The Man with an Unclean Spirit

31 He went down to Capernaum, a city in Galilee, and was teaching them on the sabbath.32They were astounded at his teaching, because he spoke with authority.33In the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice,34‘Let us alone! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’35But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ When the demon had thrown him down before them, he came out of him without having done him any harm.36They were all amazed and kept saying to one another, ‘What kind of utterance is this? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and out they come!’37And a report about him began to reach every place in the region.

The commanding Jesus

When, in the name of Jesus people confront the evil spirits that possess human  hearts and minds, they are likely to be asked, “What has Jesus got to do with us? Get back to your church and stop bothering us.”

“Now, surely,” some reader will say, “you don’t really mean this evil spirit stuff, it’s just a way of talking.” Well, in fact, when I look at the compulsions which have infected my own life, I think that “evil spirit” is a perfectly useful description. They are of course, me; but not just me. They are me as moulded by toxic social attitudes and personal experiences.  And although I know they’re toxic, I want to hang on to them. I can’t imagine life without them although they’ve only ever done me harm. I can’t imagine it because they keep up such catterwauling in my ears. But when I worship or pray or meditate, I find that as in this story, Jesus’ first gift is now as then, silence: destructive compulsions are disabled by the force of his angry compassion. I can’t hear their commands, only his. I don’t have to dominate, I don’t have to possess, I don’t have to be in the right, I don’t have to destroy. The silence he creates is golden. Jesus doesn’t come to talk about my evil spirits but to talk to them, with authority.

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