I want to write a book today (along with the other dozen ones in my head) called Silent Saints. It will be a book about people like John Keble who went about the trivial round and common tasks of their lives with great faith, perseverance, and joy, and yet aren’t remembered because they are overshadowed by flashier saints with their miracles and miters.
Did you notice Sosthenes in the corner of today’s painting? We’re so used to focusing on Paul, who always occupies most of the foreground in whatever picture he shows up in, that we don’t see Sosthenes. When the Jews were mad at Paul and hauled him before Gallio’s judgment seat, Gallio drove them from his judgment seat.
Paul having escaped their clutches, the Greeks seize Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat.
And then Paul remains a good while, takes leave of the brethren, and goes to Syria and Ephesus. And we go on our way as well, getting back to the real story at hand, the daily landscape that fills our lives.
But I can’t go with you. I’m still staring at Sosthenes who the rest of us have left behind. Why was Sosthenes beaten? Was this just a random act of violence or simply a matter of the Jews taking out their frustrations on the nearest victim since Paul was apparently untouchable?
Who was this Sosthenes? Many Bible commentators think he’s a second synagogue ruler in the story or that he might be the same person as Crispus. It’s also possible that he’s the Sosthenes that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 1:1. In any case, what a shock this must have been to the Jews in Corinth who didn’t convert! And he, a synagogue ruler!
What was the charge that the Jews brought against Paul? That he persuaded men to worship God contrary to the Law. And so I don’t think the Jews seized Sosthenes by chance: I think he was their target because he became a Christian.
Often, we go on with our lives and take no notice of the suffering that is taking place all around us. It’s all too easy to continue plowing instead of noticing and helping Icarus or to keep on reading and not notice Sosthenes. (See Brueghel’s The Fall of Icarus to see what I’m talking about http://www.artchive.com/artchive/B/bruegel/icarus.jpg.html) How many times a day might each of us come across someone who is silently suffering, or not so silently, and we’re too busy to notice? How many times has the Spirit pricked our conscience and our hearts burned within us, but we continue plowing?
Here’s a poem I wrote in high school, after I heard the news that a high school student who went to my church had died in an auto accident.
Unseen to me, you
died one Tuesday night
wondering if I looked alright.
I knew you
not well, and yet I knew you
but I didn’t
know about you.
In front of a mirror I was
In a car
on your way
to the game
you never came
for you to come and the game to start I was
where you were
but mostly if I looked just right.
intervener interloper interceptor now
in a car
interred his body without a word to me
for I was
wondering if I looked quite right.
in a car and in the night
but before I decided that I looked alright.
But then the time comes for each of us to suffer, and we wonder why no one notices. Probably because the world, and even the Christian world, is filled with a bunch of people like you and me who are too busy to notice the pain and suffering or too engrossed in self for it to register as important.
Sometimes we must carry our sorrows and suffering in solitude. Sometimes it will be done in a corner and no one else will see or notice. Other times it’s that way because we’re too proud to let others know or even too proud to cry out to the Lord.
Have you heard what happened to Sosthenes? No, not the beating he endured for His Lord, but how he became a leader in the Corinthian church? Look at 1 Corinthians 1:1 and you’ll see the following picture of Sosthenes: “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother.”
Scholars aren’t sure what to make of this odd placement of Sosthenes into a picture of Paul. Some think he may have even had a hand in writing the first letter to the Corinthians. Whatever it means, it means that Sosthenes had shown himself a true Christian who was not only willing to suffer for the Lord but was also likely a leader in the Corinthian church. And I believe that suffering patiently is often a key prerequisite for being a true Christian leader.
Other people may not have noticed Sosthenes’ suffering. But not God. He saw it, and Sosthenes and others were blessed as a result of it. There may not always be a human audience to witness your plunge into the sea or your beatings, but the heavenly audience never sleeps and never tires of a good story. There is One who always notices, and that is the One who suffered for You and now suffers with you.
So today, examine the picture that you find yourself living in. If the suffering is yours, turn to the One who will always see and care. If the suffering is in someone you know, notice, and if God calls you, find a way to care and offer help.
Prayer: Lord, help me to weep with those who weep that they may rejoice with those who rejoice. May Your Spirit awaken my conscience to those who suffer around me and, where possible, enable me to share their suffering or help ease it. Amen.
Point for Meditation:
- What Sostheneses are there in your life, whose silent suffering might be lightened by your encouraging them?
- If you are suffering, who can you ask to share your suffering with you? Don’t let pride or false humility get in the way: this may be God’s ordained means of deliverance.
Resolution: I resolve to give all of my suffering to the Lord today and share it with Him, and if He so leads me to share it with another or to share their suffering.
© 2016 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day