When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out and fastened on his hand. When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.”
- Acts 28.3, 4
One day Brendan and Bishop Erc were going along the road, when a man happened to join them. There happened, moreover, to meet them seven warriors who were enemies of his. He was greatly terrified at seeing them... “Go under the shadow of yonder standing stone,” said Brendan, “and stretch thyself in its shadow.”
- Anonymous, Vita Brendani, Irish, 16th century from an earlier ms.
Paul, as we all know, simply shook off the snake and went on with his work, completely unfazed, and wholly unconcerned about pagan myths of “justice.”
The same with Brendan. The “standing stone” was a pagan religious artifact, but he used it to hide an innocent man from pagan brigands.
As it turns out, when the man’s enemies arrived, they whacked off the top of the stone, thinking it to be the man’s head, thus desecrating their own religious shrine. The ease with which they managed that feat must have caused them to reflect, if only for a moment, on the “power” of their pagan religion.
Immediately our good evangelists. Erc and Brendan, preached the Gospel to the brigands, leading them to repentance and faith.
Two stories with similar motifs, both designed to show that they who cling to the Gospel have nothing to fear from, and no need to defer to, pagan ideas or ways. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation, and when it is proclaimed by one who lives its precepts faithfully, pagan myths can’t stand up – even if they’re secular pagan myths.
So whether that myth is about poetic justice, standing stones, which views are appropriate for deliberating in the public square, or when it’s OK to talk about religion and when it’s not, the Gospel doesn’t recognize pagan agendas or priorities, and neither should we. The Gospel is its own agenda, and it is always appropriate to be lived and shared and talked about, regardless of what “polite society” thinks about its proper place.
Shake off the objections of your unbelieving friends and colleagues, who think you ought to keep your religion to yourself. Talk with them long enough, and ask them enough questions, and soon enough they’ll cut off the heads of their own cherished worldviews and leave the way clear for you to tell them the Good News about Jesus.
We don’t operate on the world’s agenda. We hold the Lord’s agenda in the earthen vessels of our frail flesh, and all the power of God emanates from us to turn the world rightside-up for Jesus (2 Cor. 4.7).
Psalm 2.1-6 (Agincourt: “O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High!”)
Why do the nations vainly rage, conspiring together from age to age?
Earth’s kings and all of their counselors stand against the Lord and His Right Hand:
“Now let us cast His yoke below, His Kingdom authority overthrow!
Throw off His Law, reject His Word; no more be governed by this Lord!”
The Lord in heaven laughs in wrath at all who embark on this cursèd path.
His angry Word to them is plain: “Yet shall My King in Zion reign!”
T. M. Moore, Principal