Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Paul's Letter to a Bunch of Dead People

Yesterday we visited Ephesus. Ever heard of it? More likely you've heard of the people who lived there, the Ephesians. St Paul wrote a famous letter to them in the New Testament. That book of the Bible is only 6 chapters long. So I re-read it this morning as our tour bus began the 3 hour journey to our next stop in Turkey. I was curious if there were any insights to be gained by re-reading it after visiting the town. 

I should clarify that the term "town" should be taken loosely. Ephesus was once the second most important city in the Roman Empire. It had a large port, and was the end of the Silk Road, and was the big city of Asia Minor. So it was a bustling and wealthy metropolis of about 250,000 people surrounded by fertile agricultural land*. It was a nice place to live at the time. 

But Turkey is prone to earthquakes and mudslides. So the city was eventually destroyed, abandoned, and covered with mud, and it disappeared for centuries. Until some archeologists came along. 

Now Ephesus boasts some long marble-paved streets lined with columns and the painstakingly reassembled facades and walls of buildings. There's a hospital, a library, some temples, shops, houses, and theaters. If you squint hard and use your imagination, you can see the bustling port city coming back to life. You do have to drive 4 miles to find a port. The once deep u-shaped port was silted in over time. The columned commercial road that led there now leads to nowhere. 

There are no more Ephesians. They're all long dead. Their once lavish city adorned with ornately carved marble fell into nothingness. All that surrounded them, their art, their objects of pride, all of the physical aspects of their daily existence were consumed by the earth. Why should a letter to these people matter to us?

Interestingly, Paul's instructions to these dead people sounded oddly contemporary. He spoke of family relationships; he gave advice for marital relationships and child-rearing. He spoke of workplace relationships - how bosses should treat their employees and how employees should work for their employers. He spoke of community relationships. His words on patience, forbearance and gentleness never fail to convict me and highlight my daily failings.  

Despite all of the differences in technology and material wealth that we experience now, our human nature is no more advanced than it was in Ephesus' heyday. That should be a bit humbling. And the glory of Ephesus, once a marvel of civilization, was consumed by dust. Can we not assume that our now-lovely cities will, as well? What will happen to the physical objects that consume our resources and energy? Will they too be claimed by dust?

Touring the ruins of Ephesus is a great reminder to me that all material things of this earth will pass away. And reading the intro to Paul's letter to the Ephesians is a great reminder to me of what will not. 

I pray that, in the grind of daily life, I can keep this in perspective. 

*This info given by our tour guide, and not independently fact checked. 

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