Saturday, September 18, 2010

Acts 20 -- chiastic turn of events

The Book of Acts, like many pieces of ancient literature, was meticulously and carefully structured.[1] Today's fancy word, chiastic, refers to the Greek letter chi, which looks like our letter X. Let's say you have two plots going in your story. Character A goes from Point 1 to Point 2, while Character B goes from Point 2 to Point 1.

Luke liked to use geography as a technique for pacing his narratives. As the story moved along, its characters moved from point to point. One of the major moves in the Gospel of Luke was the last voyage Jesus made to Jerusalem, where he suffered, died, and was buried. After that, of course, Jesus rose again from the dead, and ascended to heaven, enthroned beside the Father and governing the universe.

Here, in the course of Paul's restless quest to take the gospel further and further afield, to places where it had not been heard before, we see a turn:
Act 20:16 Pavlus, Asya İli'nde vakit kaybetmemek için Efes'e uğramamaya karar vermişti. Pentikost Günü Yeruşalim'de olabilmek umuduyla acele ediyordu.
Let's look at that second sentence. On the day of Pentecost (Pentikost Günü) in Jerusalem[2] (Yeruşalim'de) to be able to be (olabilmek) with the hope of (umuduyla) diligence, zeal, energy (acele) he exerted (ediyordu).

Jerusalem, it seems, was the place prophets, and dreams, go to die. Like his master, Paul suddenly turns his back upon a successful and purposeful ministry life, to go back to Jerusalem.[3] He knew trouble awaited him, but "set his face like flint" to march directly into adversity. He was taking with him gifts collected from Gentile churches for the Jewish Christians, who were beginning to suffer ostracism and financial penalties for their faith. Perhaps, he hoped to avert irreparable schisms (fitna) between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Or, maybe he wished to strengthen the identity of the Jewish Christians with Christ, and hence with Gentile believers, in a culture that was suicidally and stubbornly insistent on pretending that Jesus had never happened, or in any case did not matter.


[1] That reminds me -- I took a one-semester course in aesthetics while pursuing a BA. The textbook was James Joyce's Ulysses, a book that maps the Bloomsday life of a Dublin man against Homer's Odyssey. The professor told us to re-read it in a few decades, when so many of our youthful dreams had failed, just to appreciate how robustly funny it is.

[2] I don't know how it happened. Once upon a time, an initial letter i in an English word acquired a little "foot." Somehow, the letter i with a bigger base to stand upon became our letter j, and acquired the same phonetic value as the Turkish letter c. The Latin names Iesus and Ierusalem became the English words Jesus and Jerusalem. I'm sure my Lord heeds those who call upon Him as Jesus today, even if He would not have recognized that name while walking the earth!

[3] The "back to Jerusalem" movement in China consists of Chinese Christians who wish to complete the westward movement of the Gospel by taking this message all the way back to its source. Many are studying Arabic, in the expectation of doing business with some of the intervening people groups ...

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