"The assembly was in confusion: some were shouting one thing, some another. Most people did not even know why they were there."
Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.
I was reading little story from Acts 19 today about the months when the Jesus movement in Ephesus was getting going. What an incredible story, by the way! You should read it.
So after Priscilla and Aquilla do some church planting in this area, their mentor Paul visits for several months and teaches whoever will listen. There are all these miraculous moments as well, and he causes quite a stir. In the midst of it, a local silversmith named Demetrius gets really angry because Paul has made comments that the idols that are being worshipped are simply metal, stone and wood. Paul is absolutely killing this guy's business with the message of a living God. And, as often happens in a moment where someone's money and power is threatened, his angry movement gathers momentum and a riot ensues. All of Paul's coworkers are dragged into the big amphitheater before a city clerk eventually intervenes, likely stopping some murders from occurring.
But it's a little statement in the middle that is striking me today. In the middle of the angry mayhem, Luke writes that most people didn't even know why they were there. They were just caught up in it.
Now, we can look at an account like this and arrogantly focus on those pagans and their evil ways. Yeah, that's really helpful for our formation in Christ.
OR, we can look at an account like this and say....
Wow, we humans can really get swept up in things without a lot of information, can't we?
One of the great challenges of contemporary life is that we are often drawn into the expectation to have a passionate opinion about everything. It's incredibly difficult today to live as people who are "quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry" (James 1:19). I'm afraid that frequently, we don't sit with things long enough to gain understanding of what's going on around us. Yes, there are things out there worth getting angry over, that break God's heart. Plenty of them. But there is a breakdown when anger is not linked to a spirit of truth, with understanding as a central component.
We can be quick to make sweeping statements about the Middle East, racism, immigration, abortion, and more. But many times, we do it without a prayerful spirit and without taking the time to read and listen to stories of those affected the most by these issues. There is little nuance and little compassion for how complicated this stuff is. And ironically, the way we often voice our absolute views in the name of caring for people can sometimes communicate a lack of care for other people who are also affected.
I'm not using this to seek to push a specific viewpoint, though a commitment to loving all neighbors, being anti-racist, and valuing life in every way ought to be assumed as Jesus people.
I'm writing toward the pervasive cultural climate that currently thrives on disdain and anger and de-emphasizes listening and understanding. We see and take in so much, yet we learn so very little from it.
Our calling is to trust and believe in the true Jesus, and when that's the focus, even differences, take on a different texture. Truth-seeking will remain central, and love through attitudes and actions will emerge.
I can't help but contrast Jesus heading into the desert alone to wrestle and reflect... with this angry Ephesus crowd that quickly materializes because something gives voice to their aggression, even though they don't know much about the situation.
I'd rather be like Jesus in that scenario. When I see or hear something that brings a response in me, I want to do my work and be as thoughtful as possible, so that I might be a person of truth. And when I open my mouth, I want what I say to have value.
If we are angry, may our anger be deeply rooted in truth and compassion, not leading us to sin.
If we are passionate, may our passion never blind us to the many nuances beyond the headlines where another's humanity is found.
And if we are in a crowd, may we never get caught up in the confusion, losing sight of the suffering servant that leads us.
Our thoughtfulness could end up being our one of our greatest witness opportunities. Our desire to combine justice and understanding, not simply hold passionate stances with bumper sticker ethics, may be the thing that helps people experience the way of Jesus. But we'll need Jesus to help us put off the old self that looks just like the world around us, and put on the new self that looks like his character.
Jesus, lead me toward truth-seeking, understanding and compassion, in all things.