“You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears.” As the Athenians listened to Paul proclaim the story of Jesus and the Christian message, this is how some of them responded—“These are strange ideas.” Today we live in a post-Christian age, in which people are decreasingly familiar with the Christian message and the story of Jesus. Consequently, today many people respond the same way—“These are strange ideas.” Yet there are two ways listeners may respond to strange ideas—with disdain, and so walk away, or with curiosity, wanting to learn more.
In Paul's encounter with the Athenians we see both responses: some responded positively, “We would like to know what these strange words mean;" others responded negatively—“He is advocating foreign gods,” which was the Greek way of saying “We don't want your strange ideas here, so go away.”
During the Lenten season, we focus on self-reflection and self-examination. How are we doing with God? Is our “heart,” our emotions and desires, in healthy and holy shape? Is our volition, our will, deeply submitted to Christ? Are we prepared to receive the Holy Spirit in new ways? Are we able to see where God is at work, even in unexpected places? Such matters are rightfully where our attention lies during Lent. This reading from Acts 17, however, focuses us on rationality and ideas. Paul is speaking to pagans, trying to upset and re-arrange their ideas about the nature of God and God's ways, and he is doing this because ideas matter. Wrong ideas and ways of thinking can lead us away from God just as readily as unrepentant hearts, or selfish wills, or harmful habits.
Missionally speaking, there is much for us to learn from Paul in his Areopagus debates, particularly in terms of communicating the Gospel through ideas. Notice, for instance, that three times he takes ideas from their pagan worldview and uses these evangelistically—either to point the Athenians to their spiritual need of God or to teach by analogy about God and God's ways. In this Lenten season, in which we reflect on ourselves before our heavenly Father, this text teaches us not only that non-believers need to submit their rationality, ideas, and ways of thinking to God, but so too do we who are believers and disciples of Christ. Christ suffered, died, and rose for the transformation of our whole being—including our rationality, our minds, and ideas.
Lord Jesus, this Lenten season I submit to your transforming love not just my heart and my will but also my rationality--please redeem and direct my ideas and my ways of thinking. Amen.