Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter
Ignatius of Loyola, in the Spiritual Exercises asks us to create in our imagination a visual scene of a biblical passage on which we want to meditate. Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles that places Paul in the main square of Athens provides countless possibilities. First, one has to realize that Athens at the time of Paul was one of the great centers of commerce and intellectual life in the Mediterranean. Although Roman power had shown its hand, the cultural expression of that power was often clothed in Greek language and art. In the public square in Athens, various philosophical schools vied for students, craftsmen hustled for customers, and politicians looked for votes.
In the midst of this scene, that perhaps has just a touch of our contemporary world, stands Paul preaching the importance of the knowledge of God, that God requires justice, and that people will be judged in accordance of how they acted. We would be incorrect if we thought the context of Paul’s preaching was similar to the street preachers we see today. Although we see street preachers today the context is a bit different. Public oratory at the time of Paul bore a closer resemblance to a classroom experience or a television report. What Paul did was to discuss religion in a setting in which people were familiar and he did it in a way that demonstrated a knowledge of local customs, he was respectful of what was good, and then he challenged people to resolve the questions that their own culture had raised.
It was this example of cultural awareness and the desire to begin where God had previously worked and was still working that inspired the great Jesuit missionaries such as Francis Xavier, Matteo Ricci, and Roberto di Nobili. This vision of Paul perhaps can serve as guide for us as we look to find God in our daily lives and then seek to make that presence known in a stronger and more real way.