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Context is Everything

The Journey reading for today led me to read Acts 13-14. It was a big chunk to read, but by reading this whole text it reminded me of a very important part of the Gospel. Context is everything.

Chapters 13 and 14 record Paul’s first missionary journey. It is fascinating to notice how differently he preaches depending upon the people to whom he is preaching. When they arrived in Pisidian Antioch, they stopped in the Jewish synagogue and gave a big history lesson that connected the story of the Hebrew scripture to the story of Jesus. Paul declared that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah.

The scene in Lystra was very different. There were no Jews in Lystra. It was a purely Gentile city. The first thing Paul does is heal a crippled man. This demonstrates that there is power in their message. The Lystrans think Paul and Barnabus are Greek gods and try to worship them. Paul tries to convince them that they are just humans like everyone else. He points them to the “Living God who made the Heavens and the Earth.”

Here’s what I find fascinating about the scene in Lystra. Paul never mentions Jesus to them. He simply points them to the living God. What does this mean?

It is interesting that I read this text on the morning after I taught the second session of OMG! Can We Talk about God? last night. I’m trying to make a case that theology is an ongoing process that must always take into account the context of where each person is in life. It is a messy and complex process. Quite honestly, it is overwhelming for most.

These are the four sources from which we must construct our ever changing theological models.

These are the four sources from which we must construct our ever changing theological models.

I told the OMG class that, when building a theological model, we must consult the Scripture, Tradition/History, our own reason and experience, and contemporary cultural issues. I think Paul demonstrates this in the contrast between Pisidian Antioch and Lystra.

The Jews had a rich scriptural heritage and a theological expectation for the Messiah, so Jesus fit perfectly into their language. The Lystrans had none of that. They were not waiting for a Messiah, but were worshipping the deified forces of nature. Paul pointed them to a Living God who created those forces of nature and who has always loved them and provided for them, even if they did not recognize it.

We are each in a place. The Living God meets us there and lovingly draws us deeper into relationship with God and each other. This is the Journey.

What do you make of the fact that Paul did not mention Jesus to the Lystrans?

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