Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Acts Passage – Going on a journey & being lead by the Divine

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days.” (Acts 16:9 – 12)

A couple of questions occurred to me as I prepared to write about this passage; actually two main questions and ones that I have wondered about since I was reading the bible for the first time on my own – how did Paul know the man was from Macedonia? The answer must be, I thought then as now, there was something distinct about the man that convinced Paul it was someone from Macedonia. In our modern times we sometimes suppose (and to our shame) and prejudge that someone has a certain “look” about them. We think – that person must be from such and such a place because of the way they look and dress. In our modern times, we should not judge like that. But in the times that Paul lived so few people traveled and intermingled in marriage/children that people of specific geographic areas shared many common attributes.

The second question is, why did Paul believe it was a message from the Divine that he was to go to Macedonia? Could it have not been just a random dream? That question rests greatly, I imagine, on how certain Paul was that the man was from Macedonia and what Paul’s past experience was in discerning what Macedonians look like. If the dream gave clear signs of the man’s background and identity – things that Paul would not have known from his own experience, it probably was a message from the Divine.

“On the [S]abbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.” (Verses 13 – 15)

Decades ago when I first encountered this passage (and quite honestly up to this point) it never occurred to me to wonder why they were gathered outside the city by a river (apparently there were not enough male Jews/male worshipers of God to constitute enough for a synagogue/temple) nor why a man of Macedonia called them there, and yet it was to a woman they first ministered to and converted. Nope, have no explanation for that. And you can bet the biblical commentators of this passage had nary a word of explanation for that. That of course may be to their credit, that they let pass the fact that a man called Paul and his colleagues to convert women. Apparently, in addition, the journey into Macedonia signifies the movement of conversion from the central area where Jews were in predominance to what the biblical scholars called the more “European” parts, ie. Gentile. And indeed that is where Paul seemed to be called to, outside of the traditionally more Jewish areas.

But actually I do not want to belabor the point – sorry if it seems that I already have. My point really is that when the Lord God calls us, we need to travel to where the Divine has directed us. Even if it is somewhere we have never been before. Even if it goes against the norms we have known previously. Even if it takes us outside of our comfort zone. Paul, the Paul who exhorted women to be silent in worship services, was lead to a powerful woman who ran her own household and who was very successful. He did not question the appropriateness of her conversion but went where his Lord God lead.

May we do the same! Selah!

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