A first-century tourist with time to kill in Athens has a lot of great choices. The Acropolis, the temple on a mountain in the center of the city, is breathtaking. The statue of Minerva, forty feet high, could be seen from anywhere in Athens. The Olympic Stadium, which hosted both sports and theater, could seat 60,000 spectators. Paul could catch a big javelin match or a Sunday matinee of Oedipus Rex.
Paul, however, is not a normal tourist. First, he does what he usually does when he visits a new city and heads to the synagogue for theological ping-pong. When that doesn’t go well, he goes to the Agora, the marketplace, and finds some sophisticated intellectuals with whom to disagree. Epicureans want to be happy and Stoics think the goal is to be logical, so it wouldn’t be hard to get an argument going.
Some love pointless debate, but not Paul. He wants to talk about God because he is “deeply distressed.” Who does that? Who goes to one of the greatest cities in the world and worries about the city’s spiritual condition?
The Athenians dismiss him with sarcasm. The hecklers say Paul is a “babbler” (v. 18).
If we look around thoughtfully, we will see that our city is also full of idols. Most cities have broken people who are consistently overlooked. If we talk about the distress we feel about our city, some may dismiss us as babbling foreigners who do not understand, but we should care enough to care anyway.
Be distressed about the homeless, unemployed, and underemployed in your city. Be concerned about children who are abused or neglected. Pray for your hospitals, shelters, and schools.
What does God want you to pray about in your city?
God, we pray for those who are left out as others prosper. Make us instruments by which our cities and communities become more just. Amen.