Following Jesus takes a new set of eyes; looking for new things.
Paul, as he was in Athens, sought to share the message of Jesus to those in the marketplace. The marketplace would have been a true city center, a place where so many things happened: commerce, instruction, philosophizing, etc. In Acts 17:22, Paul finally begins to address the crowd. He shares with them, as they stand in the midst of all of their altars of worship,
“I see that in every way you are very religious.”
There is an old axiom about Athens, that one could find a god before finding a person. The Athenians were religious, even having an altar to the “Unknown God”. (in case they left one out, we reckon) Paul’s issue was not to win them over to the idea of religion, but to steer them towards the one true God.
The word “to see” in this passage is not the generic blepo (to look at, to glance upon). The word Paul uses is theoreo which carries the idea of “observing in order to theorize.” Paul was not making simple observations, but was looking underneath everything that he saw; Paul had indeed trained himself to look at the world differently. Paul looks at these Athenians in the face and says, “I see you… no, no. I really see you.”
We live in a world of fast reactions, “like” buttons, retweets, etc. In our political environment, if a politician doesn’t say something outlandish, bold, and over-the-top, we won’t pay attention or listen to them. We say things quickly, with hyperbole, without giving much thorough thought and contemplation.
This is often typical of God’s people, as well. The number 1 complaint from the 18-29 year old demographic towards Evangelical Christianity is that it is “judgmental.” That moniker can mean many things, but at the heart of it appears to be the idea of “making a verdict without surveying all of the evidence… or simply to see but not to theorize.”
The Christian faith has always been in a peculiar place. On the one hand, Jesus came to rescue us from a dark and evil world. On the other, Jesus was raised in a physical body and seeks to bring a kingdom on earth as is in heaven. Jesus came to claim this world, not to condemn it. (John 3:17)
Therefore, the Christian must learn to see things differently, like Paul. Paul’s tone is not the red-faced, sweaty, screaming preacher (making 1 syllable words 3 syllable words, you know what I’m saying?) Instead, Paul enters into the world of the Epicureans on one side and the Stoics on the other, here in Acts 17. He renounces and reclaims the truths within them both. (This idea is from NT Wright’s Simply Christian) The task of the Christian is to move within the world and look for signs of Father, Son, and Spirit wherever we find them, and alongside that, renounce those things that stand in the way of the reality of Jesus being Lord over all of creation.
This, of course, is hard to do when the Christian chooses to observe rather than to see. Observation doesn’t require relationship, just Facebook status updates and Retweets. To see is to move in, to connect, to relate, to cherish, to affirm, and to announce an empty tomb and a new world. The Eastern Orthodox folks say that when Jesus exited the tomb on Easter morning, all of creation came out with it.
We have much more to celebrate than to snarl about. We have much to theorize than to observe and to judge.