When they heard this, they were enraged and shouted, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ The city was filled with the confusion; and people rushed together to the theatre, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s travelling companions. Paul wished to go into the crowd, but the disciples would not let him; even some officials of the province of Asia, who were friendly to him, sent him a message urging him not to venture into the theatre. Meanwhile, some were shouting one thing, some another; for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. Some of the crowd gave instructions to Alexander, whom the Jews had pushed forward. And Alexander motioned for silence and tried to make a defense before the people. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours all of them shouted in unison, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ But when the town clerk had quietened the crowd, he said, ‘Citizens of Ephesus, who is there that does not know that the city of the Ephesians is the temple-keeper of the great Artemis and of the statue that fell from heaven? Since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. You have brought these men here who are neither temple-robbers nor blasphemers of our goddess. If therefore Demetrius and the artisans with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls; let them bring charges there against one another. If there is anything further you want to know, it must be settled in the regular assembly. For we are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.’ When he had said this, he dismissed the assembly. Acts 19.28-41
Word of Hope
One of the great joys of being part of a Progressive congregation is that spiritual growth is not only allowed, but encouraged. In the passage above we see the crowd sticking to their beliefs, “Artemis is great”. And interestingly, the Greeks believed the goddess Artemis was, for the most part, a defender of women! Not only that, but the town clerk, the local government representative, quiets the crowd who are attacking the Christians. Local officials even urge Paul to stay away for his own safety!
I am not saying that the freedoms of religion and speech as we understand them were at play. The government of Ephesus was no doubt a religious based one. The fact that there are laws in place dealing with blasphemy shows this. But clearly they were not going to allow religion to be the cause of the peace being broken. There is a way to handle this and the actions of the Ephesians are potentially illegal too. There is not cause too justify the commotion.
What then can we learn from this? Even without official religious laws, there are better ways than riots, angry shouting, and creating fear to deal with differences. This does not mean no gatherings. It does not mean no expression of your thoughts. It means being civilized.
Too often in our time we cause commotion without civility. We need to learn from this passage, from St. Francis, from Gandhi, from Martin Luther King Jr., from Nelson Mandela, Thich Nhat Hanh, and of course Jesus, that anger only inflames anger, hate only creates hate, and that peace begets peace. Instead of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, what if we say a handshake for a handshake, a hug for a hug, a kiss for a kiss?
God of peace and love, teach me to love, accept, and to grow in faith, understanding, and civility. Let me hear others and let my actions speak Your love.
Order of Saint Francis and Saint Clare