Archive for January 12th, 2008

The Last Episode

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

Today’s scripture: Acts 28:23-30 (NRSV) (The Message)

As you read, consider: What might God be saying to me? Summarize your thoughts in a sentence or two.

My thoughts (Jeff Miner):

Although I never watched The Sopranos, I did hear about its infamous last episode. Bear in mind that I’ve heard all this second hand, but my understanding is that Tony — the lead character and all-round tough guy — was in a restaurant eating with his family when he suddenly realized that a hit man might be in the restaurant. As the scene unfolded, loyal Sopranos watchers across the globe held their breath.

Would this be it? Would Tony be gunned down in front of his family?

And that’s where the episode ends. The screen fades to black, leaving frustrated fans to shout, “Wait a minute! That’s not fair! Finish the story! Does he live or die?”

One has to wonder if the writers of The Sopranos are secret fans of another ancient writer — our writer — Luke.

For many days now we’ve been following Paul’s dramatic journey. Many chapters ago, we read how Paul decided to visit Jerusalem, even after others warned that it would lead to his arrest and eventual death. He felt compelled to go to Jerusalem anyway. There, he was arrested and came perilously close to being killed, until he appealed his case to Rome.

We followed Paul as he made the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea, almost lost his life in a shipwreck, and then finally landed in Rome for his climatic trial in the Emperors Tribunal. Then, just before the trial, the screen fades to black! Luke tells us that Paul “lived for two whole years [under house arrest] and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.” The end!

For centuries since, Bible scholars have debated why Luke left us hanging. Theories abound. Some say Luke intended to write a sequel, but died before he could do so. Others say Luke wrote during the two years at Rome while Paul was awaiting trail. Thus, at the time of his writing, he didn’t yet know how the trial would go. Others suggest that what occurred at Paul’s trial was so well known to people at the time, there was no need for Luke to retell it.

Yet others believe Luke ended the story as he did because, in his mind, the climax had already been reached. The book began, in chapter 1, with Jesus telling his disciples they would share the Gospel “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” With Paul’s arrival in Rome and the two years of missionary work he did there, the Gospel has now symbolically reached all the way from Jerusalem to Rome, the crossroads of the earth at the time. To Luke, some say, this was the real climax — not Paul’s trial, but the fact that the Good News was now certain to spread around the globe.

Not a bad theory.

But I’m still bummed out. We don’t even know if Paul’s imprisonment in Rome marked the end of his life. Some scholars believe he was acquitted, traveled as a missionary for many years (even to Spain), then was arrested a second time and executed after a second trial in Rome. Other scholars believe Paul was convicted an executed after the “first” trial — the one about to occur as the book of Acts ends.

So why did God allow this critical book which tells the story of early Christianity to end unfinished?

Maybe that’s the whole point – because the story isn’t finished, can’t be finished, until we (and those destined to come after us) have written our parts. We — you and I — are part of the unfolding story that began more than 2000 years ago in Acts 1. We — you and I — are part of the Christian Movement that, despite earth’s best attempts, has spread ever farther.

Thought for the day: What will I contribute to the still unfolding story of Christianity? Will I allow God to use me to add some heroic events to Luke’s epic?

We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. If you need a place to get started, consider the guidelines on the How to Pray page.

"Be still, and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10
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