Stroll through Scripture for April 21, 2024

Based on Acts 17:1-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

The Narrative Lectionary jumps from Acts 3 all the way to Acts 17 and beginning of the spread of the church outside of Israel.  In this week’s Lectionary, we are sent with Paul and Silas to Thessalonica.  Thessalonica was an important and thriving city in the Roman Empire.  It served as the capitol of the Roman province of Macedon, was an important port city along the Via Egnatia, was prosperous and had a cultural reputation. Over the centuries, many famous Romans would come to the city.  In our readings today, we hear about Paul’s initial journey there, along with the opening of his letter to the church in Thessalonica.  

In Acts, we hear that Paul and Silas come to the city and head to the synagogue.  We are told that Paul engages in scriptural debate with the men of the synagogue over three Saturdays.  It seems as though Paul was a good debater because several people were persuaded by him and his arguments.  And this is where things start to change.   Jealousy sets in.  A mob is formed.  Mob justice is about to ensue.  Excuses are made for violence.  Things are getting out of hand.  Someone needs to pay!  How many times in human history has this scene played out?  There’s always a mob or posse rounded up to enforce order, restore the familiar status quo, and bring compliance on the whole.  The only thing that changes are who the victims of the mob are.  

One has to wonder if Paul intentionally went into the synagogue to stir up trouble.  I think it’s important that the author of Acts points out that Paul debated in the synagogue for three consecutive Sabbaths.  He wasn’t going away and it became pretty clear to the people in charge.  Fear gripped over them and they did what so many in positions of leadership have done when gripped by fear – turn to force.  They couldn’t compete with Paul’s arguments, so they were going to shut down the conversation completely.  With fear, there is no room for conversation, for potential change, or a new order of things. 

When we turn to Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian church, we are greeted with the introduction.   Often Introductions are skimmed over as unimportant, but when we do, we miss out on a great deal.  The introduction gives us context and a quick summary of what we are going to find in the rest of the letter.  

In this introduction, we have the typical formula of who the letter is from and then who it is going to and finally the actual greeting.  “Grace to you and peace.”  That greeting is in contrast to what we heard about Paul and Silas’ first encounter in the city – it was anything but grace-filled or peaceful.  

One wonders if the letter is addressed to the very same people who were convinced by Paul in the synagogue.  What is clear though is that word has spread about the church in Thessalonica – about the people’s faithfulness and example of living faithfully.  Paul summarizes his welcome to the city and recounts the church’s response – offering peace instead of violence.  

Questions for reflection:

  • Have you ever been part of a debate that became frustrating because it wasn’t going well for you?   What did you do?  How did you feel?  What did you want to do?   
  • Have you ever been part of a debate that was going well for you?  How were your treated by the other party?   
  • If Paul were to write a letter to our church, how do you think he would greet the congregation?  

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