Reflections from Jane Thomas
Allow me to draw you from the poetry, passion and myrrh-dripping sexual tension of Song of Songs into the murky world of politics, money and self-interest of Ephesus during the time of Paul.
Acts challenges us with the good news that Jesus changes everything! Once we have met Him our world view is shaken upside down. Things which once seemed self-evident and important, even defined us, such as our work, our social standing, our material consumption, no longer remain taken for granted as truth and unquestioned. Christ has won for us freedom from blindness to the idols of our lives; idols which had previously been relentless in their exhausting demands for our effort, perfection and devotion.
Choosing to abandon the deeply held beliefs and values of society is not just a private faith decision. We are tribal creatures, and conformity to social expectations and norms is the glue which holds societies together. There is immense pressure on those of us who begin to ask difficult questions about the way we do things. This story in Acts 19 reveals the significant personal, political, economic and social consequences of leaving a tribe. Paul’s ministry in Ephesus and the growth of the Christian community there were seriously threatening the lucrative business of the silversmiths who made replicas of the famous Ephesian shrine to the goddess Artemis.
Self-interest and threat to economic survival are powerful motivations to action. (Legendary NSW Premier Jack Lang famously quipped to a young Paul Keating, “Always back the horse named self-interest son. It’ll be the only one trying.”) Combine self-interest with political shrewdness and cynicism, the capacity to whip up xenophobic fear to inflame emotion, and social unrest will turn to riot. This combination was achieved masterfully and terrifyingly by local Ephesian silversmith, Demetrius. Only the pragmatic actions and words of a more responsible local politician, who mollified the seething crowd with a more law abiding process to address their self-interest and anxiety, prevented the situation in Ephesus from ending in tragedy.
Interestingly, Paul is very much on the edges of this story. Christians have no part in provoking or whipping up or inflaming violence and aggression. Mass hysteria is the antithesis of the searing awareness that Jesus brings of our own folly and the lies which prop up the society in which we live. Instead, we are called to infuse our communities with the powerful aroma of peace and reconciliation, witness to Jesus’ truth.
May we live in the truth of Jesus’ freedom and grace this day.
Posted by Al McEwan for Jane Thomas