Just as Luke draws an interesting parallel between the death of Jesus and Stephen, he does something similar with Paul and Socrates, without ever naming the famous Athenian philosopher.
Both men speak in the marketplace. The people believe they are both introducing new gods. Like Socrates, Paul stands before some sort of court. But only Paul is able to escape with his life intact.
Whether or not Paul knew about the fate of Socrates, he skillfully engaged the Athenians on their own terms. And he does so without critique or criticism. Nor does he condemn them for having a city full of idols, but instead uses their own spiritual intellect and curiosity to show them how the unknown God they seek is already present in their lives, whether they realize it or not.
Instead of fighting them, he engaged them on their terms, in a language they could understand. And then he invites them to participate in God’s kingdom by calling them to rethink their beliefs.
What this church and all Christian churches can take away from this story is how to find common ground as a way to proclaim this message of the universal Christ, whom through God is present in all people and all things.
I think it would be a safe bet to say most Christians today believe Christ is Jesus’ last name. Paul shows this court of intelligencia that God is way bigger than that. In his book The Universal Christ, Richard Rohr’s uses Paul’s words to show us how, “Christ is not limited to the Christian religion but is the story of the divine presence in everything." Both men will argue how all things made by God are holy and divine. And what make something that way, is Christ.
Christ is the great unifier. The one who levels the playing field redeeming all and returning all back to our original source which is God. Because Christ is in us, we are in Christ. And because Christ is in God, we too are a part of God, and God is a part of us. We all share the same humanity. And the same divinity.
Time and time again, Jesus showed us how to see beyond our differences and recognize the humanity and divine in all people.
Like Nadia Bolz-Weber notes, “Jesus seemed to want connection with those around him, not separation…He kept violating boundaries of decency to get to the people on the other side of that boundary...He cared about real holiness, the connection of things human and divine, the unity of sinners, the coming together of that which was formerly set apart.”
I believe that’s why Jesus calls us to love and serve one another. In loving others, we are loving God. Likewise, by serving others we are serving God. To follow Jesus, the incarnate Christ, is to embrace a worldview that is more inclusive, more compassionate, and more loving. Because that’s who God is.
We live and participate in an increasingly polarized world where everyone is quick to judge and condemn those who hold different beliefs or opinions. This creates this an "us versus them" mentality. And has produced a dualistic God, whose love is conditional. This is a false god, like the ones in Athens.
I mean, do you really think God cares what political party you belong to? Or what church you attend or what sports team you root for? That’s a small 'g' god.
A big ‘G’ God, the one and only God Paul describes to the Athenians, is more concerned about how you love God, love others, and serve both. This big ‘G’ God isn’t separated from us but, through Christ, becomes one of us. One who creates human flourishing and ensures no one is left out.
Thus, as the body of Christ, we should focus our attention on entering Anamesa together, as one body, one heart and voice, making the kingdom of heaven come alive in all that we do. There is no need to be divided or dismissive because we are all made from the same divine source, whether we know it or not.
Through Christ, God saves the world by joining flesh with it. A God living among and within us all. This was a radical message that challenges the Athenians' beliefs about their own gods and the way they worshiped them. It should also challenge our notions as well. God isn’t just sitting on a cloud looking down on all of us. God is right here, as close to us as our own breath.
We are the God created. Made fully alive by the resurrected Christ. As Paul will go on to write, “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you…you are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
This tells me that we are living temples and shrines made to manifest and reveal God’s glory. This is the unexpected, good news for those listening to Paul. Let’s face it, “One more god in Greece would have meant little, but upon hearing they were temples of the divine, made their hearts burn with desire and hope.” (Rohr)
Paul will continue his ministry building upon the foundation that was set by the other Apostles at Pentecost, creating the structure of the church, the living body of Christ.
In his letters, he writes, “For just as the body is one with many members…we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).
He declares, “We are all sons and daughters of God in Christ Jesus there is no distinction between male or female, Greek or Jew, slave or free, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26–28).
His message then is relevant for us today, reminding the divided churches, “In his flesh he has made both groups one and has broken down the wall, that is, the hostility between us.” (Ephesians 2:13-14)
In Christ’s holy and sacred body, there is no longer “us and them.” No need to worry about what side we’re on because of Christ we are one with God. Our focus should not be on what others are doing, or what they believe, but on what we can do to make Christ come alive, right here, right now.
We are the living temples and sacred shrines of God’s glory, where others can come and receive God’s unconditional love. This is our mission and ministry. This is the call of the church universal. And how each and every one of us can evangelize and leave people in awe.
As Christ’s followers we must enter Anamesa, loving one another, seeking common ground, and never give up working towards unity and peace. Following the examples of the Apostles, like Peter, Stephen, and Paul may we proclaim the gospel message of redemption and hope to all who will listen.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word Year A, Vol 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010).
Bolz-Weber, Nadia. Shameless: A Sexual Reformation (New York: Convergent Books, 2019), 26, 22, 26–27.
Rohr, Richard. The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For and Believe (New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2019)
Rohr, Richard. Essential Teachings on Love, selected by Joelle Chase and Judy Traeger (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2018), 90–92.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”