25th May 2022

Paul and The Unknown God - Inspired Walk



Acts 17:15,22 – 18:1;             Ps 148:1-2,11-14;                   Jn 16:12-15



In the first reading, we have St Paul’s famous speech at Athens. While walking through the city he keenly observed everything. One spot that made quite an impression on him was an altar with the inscription, “to an unknown God.” It may not have been a gigantic structure, nor situated on a busy street. We may find such an altar silly and even scoff at the Athenians, who were otherwise quite religious and even intellectually refined. But strangely, it could be true in our lives too. Since we received the gift of faith at baptism, have we made progress in our personal relationship with God? After so many years, is he still unknown to us? When we address God as “Father”, do we understand and genuinely mean what we are saying?

Paul had studied the background of the Athenians well. His erudite speech included quotes from their poets. But was it a success or a failure? True, the response was not huge. Contrast it with the first speech of Peter soon after the Pentecost event. He was not an intellectual or a brilliant orator like Paul, but we are told that on that day “three thousand persons were added” (Acts 2:41) to the believers. Some scholars suggest that Luke included this speech of Paul as an example of how not to preach. While he spoke of the resurrection of Christ, the people dismissed it saying, “we will hear you again about this.”

However, to be fair to Paul, the response was not zero. Some became believers in Athens and they included Dionysius, a member of the Court of the Areopagus, and a woman called Damaris. Luke would not have included these names if they had not eventually become outstanding members of the Church. This speech is a fine example of the practice of interreligious dialogue. The Declaration of Vatican II, Nostra Aetate, on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions, actually begins with a paragraph that alludes to this speech of St Paul.

Response: Heaven and earth are full of your glory

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