Last week we heard all about St. Stephen and his unfortunate end in Jerusalem, and if you can remember, we were introduced to another character at the end of that reading in the Acts of the Apostles, a man named Saul. Saul consented to the death of Stephen; Saul hated Christianity, which he considered an affront to God, and was zealous in his efforts to squash the Faith and anyone who practiced it. Not long after, Saul was confronted by the same Jesus he was persecuting; he was converted to the Faith he once hated and was given the name Paul to reflect his change of life.
This week we fast forward a bit and catch up with Paul and a few of his Christian friends, and they are not in Jerusalem but in Thessalonica. Thessalonica was nowhere near Jerusalem – it’s 66 hours away by car. The city was an important one – “founded around 315 BC by the King Cassander of Macedon, on or near the site of the ancient town of Therma and 26 other local villages. He named it after his wife Thessalonike, a half-sister of Alexander the Great and princess of Macedon as daughter of Philip II. Under the kingdom of Macedon the city retained its own autonomy and parliament and evolved to become the most important city in Macedon.”1
“Thessalonica was located at the intersection of two major Roman roads, one leading from Italy eastward (Ignatia Way) and the other from the Danube to the Aegean. In 168 BC it became the capital of the second district of Macedonia and later it was made the capital and major port of the whole Roman province of Macedonia (146 BC). In 42 BC, after the battle at Philippi, Thessalonica was made a free city,”2 which gave it a certain sheen- they were important and they knew it. The whole world ran through Thessalonica, that lynchpin of the Roman Empire.
But the people of the city had a little problem. The whole world might have run through Thessalonica, but their world was changing. The Jews of the city dragged some of the Christians before the city authorities, crying, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also.” These men who have turned the world upside down, Paul, Silas, Jason, the Apostles, they had become, like Stephen we talked about last week, they had become dangerous, dangerous witnesses to Jesus, to the point in which people, good religious people, had come to think that their world was being turned upside down.
St. Luke tells us that these people were made to feel “ἀναστάτους: homeless, outcast, from their former settlements, or, metaphorically, unsettled in their allegiance to their civil or spiritual rulers… (When St. Paul was accused in a Roman court)… In the mouth of St. Paul’s accusers it contains a distinct charge of sedition and disobedience to the Roman law.”3 These people, these Christians, were radicals!
It’s enough to make you wonder what we’re up to nowadays. When Bishop Councell was here last, he called us radicals right from the pulpit: the Bishop said that we are radically devoted to Jesus, to His Presence in the Blessed Sacrament; he said that we are radically devoted to worship, to evangelism, to serving others in this very community. Later on the Bishop said that we were pretty radical about throwing the best parties with the best food in the diocese.
Bordentown might not be Thessalonica, but let’s face it, all Jersey roads do essentially flow through Bordentown. And so as we continue to hear about these radical witnesses, these dangerously Spirit-filled heroes like Stephen and Jason and Silas and Paul, we can ask ourselves once again How radical are we, really? And are we ready to turn Bordentown upside down?