Turning the World Upside Down

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 became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar …. When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” (Acts 17:4-7)

“Turning the world upside down.” Just what was so crazy about Paul and Silas’ preaching that prompted such a backlash?

Well, for one thing, their message resonated not just with some of the Jews in the synagogue at Thessalonica, but also with some “devout Greeks,” those Gentiles known as “God-fearers” who were attracted to Jewish worship and teaching. We’ve also been reading over the last several days about the presence of “leading women” like Lydia, slave-girls set free from evil spirits, and jailers treated with kindness finding a place in the new community and being baptized as new believers.

Paul and Silas, and the communities they were creating, mixed up Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, jailers and prisoners, men and women into a new family of believers that was in sharp contrast to the divided, patriarchal Greco-Roman culture of their time.

Their egalitarian preaching so threatened some people’s sense of order that Jewish believers joined up with “ruffians” to attack someone’s house, drag him before the authorities, and loudly support the emperor’s position.

Think about that for a minute.

When was the last time you saw such angry energy directed against people who believe that everyone has a place in Christ’s new community of love?

When was the last time you saw believers joining with those in power to keep women and the poor and prisoners “in their proper place”?

The world still needs to be turned upside down.

“Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you into the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name” (BCP 101).

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