A man by the name of Rob Bell once said “When someone sets out to be controversial or provocative or shocking as an end in itself, I don’t think that’ a noble goal.” And I agree. Provocation for provocation’s sake is not very helpful. Being shocking just to get a reaction is rarely constructive.
But what if your message or your insight is provocative? Best to always check your motivations in that case. But regardless of your motivations, there are some messages that are simply going to be seen as a real threat to some, no matter how hard you try (or don’t try) to soften the blow!
Look at our lesson today in Acts 17:1-9:
IN THOSE DAYS, when the apostles had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and for three weeks he argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded, and joined Paul and Silas; as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked fellows of the rabble, they gathered a crowd, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the people. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brethren before the city authorities, crying, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them; and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard this. And when they had taken security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.
Ah, yes, those “wicked fellows of the rabble” always seem to find their way to a fight. You see Paul and Silas (by this time in St. Paul’s ministry, he and St. Barnabas had parted company over a disagreement about Barnabas’ cousin, St. John Mark. See, even saints have disagreements!) spend some three weeks in Thessaloniki discussing (the scriptures call it “arguing”) with the Jews about the Person of Jesus and how He, as the Messiah, had to suffer, die, and rise from the dead. You see, at this time, the Jews, and frankly the whole contemporary world, of that day could not conceive of a King being weak or showing weakness. The Messiah, according to the Jews, was meant to come as a conqueror to throw out the Romans and re-establish the Jewish kingdom. St. Paul’s message provoked these Jews who could not imagine such a Messiah to stir up trouble and get the authorities involved!
And what did they tell the Roman authorities? “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also…” You see, the opponents of the Apostles had made peace with the status quo. They had allowed the radical message of the Faith to be tamed by convention and reduced the message of the Faith to something that only applied to their little community, and not the whole world. And in so doing, when the Messiah did come and die and rise from the dead, this set the message of the Faith back on a collision course with the world. But it wasn’t the Apostles who were turning the world upside down; it was the Faith setting the world right side up again!
The purpose of the Orthodox Christian Faith is to set us all aright. But that work will always conflict with a world who just wants to stay the same. It’s true in our witness to timeless morality in our society. It’s true in the Faith’s message to cultures, countries, and people. But it’s also true when the Faith confronts me with it’s message of rightness in the face of my upside down ideas and attitudes.
Today, is your world upside down? Is your life upside down in places? Know this, no matter how disruptive, no matter how controversial or provocative, the purpose of being Orthodox on Purpose is not to turn your world upside down, but right side up again!