bible blog 843

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

Anglican indecision about successor to Rowan Williams

Acts 20:1-16

Paul Goes to Macedonia and Greece

20After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples; and after encouraging them and saying farewell, he left for Macedonia.2When he had gone through those regions and had given the believers* much encouragement, he came to Greece,3where he stayed for three months. He was about to set sail for Syria when a plot was made against him by the Jews, and so he decided to return through Macedonia.4He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Beroea, by Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, by Gaius from Derbe, and by Timothy, as well as by Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia.5They went ahead and were waiting for us in Troas;6but we sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we joined them in Troas, where we stayed for seven days.

Paul’s Farewell Visit to Troas

7 On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight.8There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting.9A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead.10But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.’11Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left.12Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted.

The Voyage from Troas to Miletus

13 We went ahead to the ship and set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul on board there; for he had made this arrangement, intending to go by land himself.14When he met us in Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene.15We sailed from there, and on the following day we arrived opposite Chios. The next day we touched at Samos, and* the day after that we came to Miletus.16For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia; he was eager to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.

The ancient outer harbour at Troas, on the Aegean Sea

Three monks are talking about their funerals and the question of what each of them would like said by the officiating priest.

One says, “I want him to say that I was  man who worshipped God sincerely.”

The second says, “I would like him to say I was a man who strictly obeyed the commands of God.”

The third says, ” I want him to say,”There’s movement in this coffin! My God, he’s alive!”

And if ever I fall to the ground from three flights up, while everyone else has begun to mourn my death, I want someone as calm as Paul to see that I’m alive. This calmness is an essential element in Luke’s portrait of Paul, where it is linked to Paul’s faith: precisely because he trusts in One who is beyond this world, he is free to act with wisdom and effectiveness in this world.

We should see the ‘travel diary’ format for what it is: a well-known story-tellers technique which doesn’t at all mean that the author was actually part of these events. Still, perhaps his knowledge of the sea-coasts indicates that at any rate he had travelled in those regions. Even coastal voyages can be dangerous, so the fact that the narative takes them as ordinary is meant to convey the courageous resolve of Paul and his companions. In the cosy churches of the developed and democratic world people may have almost forgotten the virtues of courage, resolve and calm under pressure, which are required daily of those who practice their faith in more violent places. Indeed, these virtues shine out everywhere in people who are facing illness, loss, unemployment or poverty. The church also needs the elan they engender, for its mission in post-Christian societies today.

Luke 4:38-44

Healings at Simon’s House

38 After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her.39Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them.

40 As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them.41Demons also came out of many, shouting, ‘You are the Son of God!’ But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah.*

Jesus Preaches in the Synagogues

42 At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them.43But he said to them, ‘I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.’44So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.*

St. Michael from Coventry Cathedral

Luke, using a narrative he found in his copy of Mark’s gospel depicts the courage and drive of Jesus in his mission. It’s easy for modern readers to ignore the plain sense of this story.

1. Jesus deals seriously with an elderly woman’s disabling fever which prevents her taking the place of honour in her daughters house. Jesus frees her from her illness so that she can resume her place as hostess. Luke says, “he stood over her”; Mark, more daringly says “he ( an unrelated male) took her (an older female) by the hand.”

2. Jesus confronts the human need which gathers at the door with the accompanying clamour of “evil spirits” speaking through the needy people. His calm compassion brings healing and prevents people making messianic claims about him.

3. Jesus departs to a lonely place (to pray). His strength has a source.

4. Jesus insists on moving on. His task is to spread the news of the world-wide rule of God’s love,not to be a village messiah.

Luke’s narrative emphasises that God’s love challenges any easy acceptance of evil and suffering. His son and his disciples have no magic power and no political programme but trusting in the goodness of God, confront the evils which are in their way while encouraging others to have the same trust and the same courage.

This is the feast of St. Michael and all Angels, my name day. “Michael” in Hebrew means “Who is like God” which may be true of his angel if not of me. Perhaps the angel can be seen as a personification of the kind of courage required to live well in the world. Epstein’s St. Michael on the walls of Coventry Cathedral, treading on a chained but still-dangerous Satan, expresses this well.


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