Acts 17: 1-9
After Paul and Silas had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.’ 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 market-places they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house. 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.’ The people and the city officials were disturbed when they heard this, and after they had taken bail from Jason and the others, they let them go.
Wayne Sleep, former principal dancer of the Royal Ballet, actor and choreographer, was once asked about what had brought him fame and success; quoting Margot Fonteyn, he said he was ‘tenacious’. Paul the apostle certainly brought tenacity to his missionary work. It also brought him much suffering and conflict; and any fame and success he achieved he attributed not to his own prodigious efforts, but to the one he sought to serve, Jesus Christ.
When Paul arrived in Thessalonica, a wealthy city with a Roman, Greek and Jewish population, he received a mixed reception; and was accused of ‘turning the world upside down’.
According to Acts, Paul was a man in a hurry. He moved on, or was moved on for his own safety when preaching the gospel, often in synagogues. His message of Jesus, the crucified but now risen Messiah, some believed, others denied. Judaism, a tolerated religion, could do without Christianity – a rebellious sect which threatened the status quo. A less tenacious man would have taken the hint and sought a lower profile, but not Paul. To be a friend of Paul, was often to invite trouble.
More than once his opponents laid charges of political sedition against him, branding him a danger to civic peace. This brought Paul to the attention of the authorities for whom unrest which threatened ‘pax Romana’, was unwelcome and could bring swift retribution.
Today, we, the Church in the West, comfortably assimilated into society, are rarely, if ever, accused of causing civic unrest. Democracy and Christianity seem to coexist peaceably. Our sisters and brothers in South America and Africa are more likely to have that accusation flung at them. How tenacious are we ‘to relearn the radical, political, social implications of belief in the sovereignty of God’ (Willimon)?
‘Pray that if times of testing should lay bare
what sort we are, who call ourselves his own,
we may be counted worthy then to wear,
with quiet fortitude, Christ’s only crown:
the crown that in his saints he wears again –
the crown of thorns that signifies his reign’. (F. Pratt Green)