There’s a story in the Bible in a book we call Acts. In chapter 14 of that book, a man named Paul visits a city to talk to the people about a rabbi he follows, a rabbi that he believes in the son of God (Jesus, if you’re wondering).
So, Paul speaks to the people of the city, but there’s trouble. People, his own people, from a city he recently left have followed him to this new place and, as the Bible says, “won over the crowds.” In other words, they crashed the party, and convinced the people to reject what Paul was teaching. Oh, and stone him.
Stoning is an ancient form of punishment. And it wasn’t simply throwing stones. The accusers pushed you over the edge of a drop off, then they began dropping stones on you. This happened to Paul. After the stoning, the people pulled his body out of town. His few friends thought he was dead.
But he wasn’t.
Then, like any sensible person, he went back into the city.
He went back. To the same people who stoned him and dragged him out of the city.
N.T. Wright explains Paul’s actions (from Acts 13 and 14) as what he believes should be the actions of the church:
But what is our society longing for? Peace; justice; freedom; a voice and a vote which will count; health. Around and above all of those, love. Inside and through all of those: to satisfy the hunger of the heart, a hunger which no amount of money, fine houses, fast cars, luxury vacations and love affairs will ever begin to reach. And the task of the church, though it certainly goes much wider and deeper than this, at least includes the following: that we should, in prayer and with wisdom, be able to tell the story of our world, our increasingly neo-pagan society, in terms of the long history of promises we have clung onto and pledges we have made and broken. We should be prepared to think it all through so we can tell the story that people know is their story, the one they always knew they wanted to hear. And we have to tell it so that, like Paul telling the story of Israel, it ends with Jesus, not artificially or like a conjuror pulling a rabbit out of a hat, but so that he appears as what and who he is: the truly human one, the one in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, the living bread through whom all our hungers are satisfied. And of course it’s no good at all simply trying to say it. We have to live it. We have to create, and sustain, communities where this life is being lived in such a way that when we speak of it we are obviously telling the truth. That is the hard part. As long as our churches are places where we struggle to sustain an hour or two’s public worship per week, with ‘real life’ only minimally affected by it, we will indeed end up like a bunch of vaguely religious cows in a field, mooing on Sunday mornings and chewing the cud the rest of the time. No highs and no lows. But if we really worked at trying to be for our world what the apostles were for their Jewish world, things might change. The gospel might come alive. Vested interests would be challenged, and they would bite back.
That’s a lot to take in. So how about this:
Transformed people transform people. – Richard Rohr
Same thing. But different.
There’s another reason Paul returned to the city. In the same story of Acts 14, it tells us Paul went back “when [his friends] surrounded him.” Never count anyone out who is surrounded by good friends. There may have been 200 friends. There may have been 2. But that’s all it took.
He went back.
What would happen to your world, your neighborhood, your home, if you were transformed? Possibly something as bad, emotionally or physically, as a stoning. But some would see what you see, and they would be the ones to surround you, helping you to get back up again to return to your work. That would transform them.