In the Acts of the Apostles, we see the burgeoning life of the early Christian community and people on fire to share this life with others.
It also holds up a mirror in which we can see ourselves today.
Recent daily readings from Acts have chronicled the second missionary journey of Paul and his “Macedonian call.”
He was imprisoned in Philippi, faced an angry mob in Thessalonica, and was chased out of Beroea.
By the time Paul gets to Athens, you’d think he’d be a little miffed at the Greeks, but he just goes to the market and engages with people.
When he is invited to the Areopagus to address the elites, Paul doesn’t condemn their pagan practices but commends them on being “scrupulously religious.”
In Athens, he had seen shrines to every god under the sun, but there was also one to an “Unknown God.”
Paul told his listeners that he knew that Unknown God: the maker of the world, Lord of heaven and earth “Who gives to all life and breath and everything else” — roles not covered by Athena through Zeus.
In terms familiar to those Athenian truth-pursuers, Paul tells of this God as the One people seek, even grope for in the dark — the God history has longed for, “though he is not far from any of us.”
Then, in ultimate respect, Paul quotes not a Jewish prophet but the Greek poet Aratus: “In Him we live and have our being ... for we too are His offspring.”
Some scoffed when Paul spoke of the resurrection, but some converted, and Paul moved on to Corinth.
It’s a great early Church story, but what about that mirror?
Well, it asks us if we treat certain others as enemies and threats, or whether we can see them as Paul did, as people with whom he desperately wanted to share what he found to be the Source of life, joy and meaning.
We could also consider Paul’s reference to a God Unknown. No matter where we are in our spiritual journey, we have doubts.
We never know how much that God we believe in is either simply what we were taught, formed of our experience, or of our own making.
We might well have an altar to our own Unknown God, a temple where we admit that we do not know, where we continue to seek and grope, where we can always come closer to that God “Who is not far from us.”