A FLY ON THE WALL: THE GOSPEL COMES TO ATHENS

[The following is a short story based on Acts 17.]

A FLY ON THE WALL:  THE GOSPEL COMES TO ATHENS
by Charlie Kelly

“Foolish boys.  It is a shame they cannot see how ridiculous they look,” mused Demetrios. Sitting on the side of a steep grassy hill, he watched two young Athenian boys wearing blindfolds begin wrestling each other, while four of their companions cheered them on.  Demtrios watched as the two blindfolded boys stretched out their arms, their fingers slowly searching through the warm breeze for their opponent.  The small crew slowly, and unintentionally migrated down the hill as their game continued.  “The blind do lead the blind,” mumbled Demetrios, trying to suppress a hint of jealousy.  Even the day’s coming sunset seemed to remind him that the carefree days of his youth had disappeared forever into the quicksand of time.  Surely the gods mocked his fleeting mortality even as he pondered it in disgruntled fashion.

A sudden rush of air brought the smell of fresh bread.  Looking off to the left he saw one of the local women selling bread to other women who had gathered to sell and trade goods.  “Work to eat.  Eat to work.  What is the point of it all?”  Demetrious stood up, brushing himself off and began sauntering towards the group of women to view the trinkets of the day before hearing his name called from over the hill.  “Demetrios!  Do not think you can hide from me, my friend.”

“Ah, Dionysius.  Surely you are coming to tell me your newest plan to waste my time,” retorted Demetrios.

“Not a waste of time,” replied the approaching Dionysius.  “But perhaps we could make some money to waste.  How about this?”  Dionysius pretended to pull a die from out of thin air, and handed the smoothed marble cube to Demetrios.  Dionysius continued in a mock whisper, “I have shaped this common looking die so that it will usually land on a certain side.  I’ve been trying it out on Alexandra all afternoon and I’ve figured it works about seven times out of ten.”

“Fooling your sister isn’t the same as fooling a professional gambler,” replied Demetrios.  “Besides, no jester’s dice will overcome the determining will of the gods, should they decide to play the trick back on you.”

Dionysius retorted, “You have determined to spend too much of your time at the Areopagus, where you and your determined group of philosophers determine to fill your hours discussing what is already determined.  I, however, am determined to fill my coffers before you see me again.”

“Do you tell these jokes to Poseidon while you are fishing with your uncle?” said Demetrios sarcastically.

“Always so serious and glum, Demetrios.  But I am determined to bring you around,” replied Dionysius.

Demetrios sighed deeply, then replied, “I will make a deal with you Dionysius.  Come up with me to the Areopagus now, for the evening talks, and then if you can speak intelligibly with me about the topic, I will waste a few more of my remaining hours of life with you; as if I have not already thrown away enough over the years.”

“It’s a deal then,” replied Dionysius as they both began walking the short distance to the Areopagus.

“You act as if I’m not an educated Athenian, Demetrios.  I may not worry myself with philosophy as much as you, but I should get some sort of credit for listening to my teacher’s constant babbling.  I had to parrot back to him some poetry by Aratus of Soli.  Would you care to hear me prove myself?” Dionysius remarked proudly.

“It would be nice to hear something of substance from you for a change, Dionysius,” replied Demetrios.

Dionysius picked a tall stalk of grass, stuck it in the corner of his mouth and continued, “Very well.”  He cleared his throat and recited in a tone intended to impersonate his teacher, “From Zeus let us begin; him do we mortals never leave unnamed; full of Zeus are all the streets and all the market-places of men; full is the sea and the havens thereof; always we all have need of Zeus….”  Dionysius paused, having lost his thought.

Demetrios quickly intervened, “For we are also his offspring…”

“Ah yes, I remember now,” interjected Dionysus.  He continued, “For we are also his offspring; and he in his kindness unto men giveth favourable signs and wakeneth the people to work, reminding them of livelihood.”  Dionysus bowed towards Demetrios, quite proud of his recitation.

“Well, you almost managed to quote it all.  Just like you almost manage to be serious about Greek philosophy,” said Demetrios while shaking his head.

“At least I’m named after a god, that ought to be worth something.  Besides, I always get lost on that part about being Zeus’ offspring.  Probably because it seems the most ridiculous idea of them all.  If I ever start throwing lightning bolts, I’ll take my god father more seriously,” said Dionysus.

He continued, “Besides, I’m fairly sure Agapios is my father, not Zeus.  And whereas Zeus would probably trade me in for a fine looking bush, my real father swears he would give his own life for me, and he certainly has given up much to teach me a new trade.  That is surely the father I would rather have.”

“Indeed Agapios has done much to keep you from becoming a fisherman like himself and your uncle,” Demetrios replied.  “I am also sure that he would give even his life for you; but that is why you must educate yourself, Dionysius.  You must be worthy of such sacrifice; for no father will lay his life down for a known fool.”

As they approached the Areopagus, they noticed an unusually large crowd stirring.  Demetrios saw his friend Aesop and came near to him asking, “Why all the commotion?”

Aesop replied, “Does it ever take more than a new speaker to garner fresh attention?  One of the teachers met a Jew in the marketplace today.  He has finished speaking at their synagogue, and the teacher is bringing him here to have him explain his strange teachings.  I personally find it quite amusing that we Greeks like to spend our time listening to those who, being notoriously unschooled in thought, preach their foreign divinities.”

“Here they come now.”  Aesop motioned towards a small group of people making their way towards the crowd.

In the middle of the approaching group was a worn and haggard looking Jew. Even though he appeared to be physically scarred, he seemed to walk with purpose.  Demetrios and Dionysius watched curiously as the Jew marched past his escort and onto the hill of the Areopagus.

Andreas, the philosopher who had accompanied the Jew, introduced him as the man Paul.  He then posed the initial question, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.”

So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Not being able to contain himself any longer, Demetrios shouted out, “Why not kill yourself now, and demonstrate this resurrection power?  Also, my dead grandmother was quite a good cook; why don’t you have your god raise her, and we’ll have a feast!”

But Dionysius, with uncharacteristic zeal replied to Paul, “We will hear you again!”

Demetrios’ glance towards Dionysius was one of simultaneous amazement and disdain.  But before Demetrios could begin his scolding, Andreas announced to the people, “Perhaps those of you interested in this unknown god, as I am, can walk with us as I return Paul to his dwelling for the night.”

Dionysius began walking towards Paul and his companions.  “Surely you cannot be serious about going,” remarked Demetrios.

“I feel compelled to talk with him, Demetrios.  I have never felt so compelled,” replied Dionysius.

Before Demetrios could reason with him further, Dionysius slipped through the crowd in the direction of Paul.  Demetrios made his way through the crowd until he saw Dionysius and several others walking and talking with Paul as they left the Areopagus.

Thoroughly disgusted, Demetrios decided to mull over the evening’s events as he began his trek to the beach, where he often secluded himself to think and talk to the gods.  He shuffled slowly, giving a moment’s pause to eye the altar to the unknown god as he went.

His walk was so slow and methodical that an hour later Dionysius had caught up with him before he reached the beach.

“I thought I’d find you coming this way,” said Dionysius.

“Have you pledged your allegiance to your unknown god, even though you are too lazy to learn about those on Mt. Olympus?” retorted Demetrios.

Dionysius continued, “You should come back with me, Demetrios, and hear what this man Paul has to say.  What he teaches is different from…”

“I do not have any interest in the Jew’s strange teachings, Dionysus!  Nor do I feel drawn to learn any more about his leader, whom he claims was magically raised from the dead.  Your peddling of that Jew’s religion is beneath you Dionysus, and any other educated Greek of a good name.  But then perhaps that is half your trouble, Dionysius.  The gods use wisdom in this world to shame fools such as yourself.  They surely mock you even now.”

“Jesus is his name, Demetrios,” Dionysius continued.  “He is the Son of God, who has come to take away the sin of all the world, even extending to us Greeks.  Paul says that through this Savior’s death…”

“Oh, the aroma of his death is surely on you, Dionysius!  That I do not deny.  Look, I cannot understand how you can find merit in such foolery,” interjected Demetrios.

“He did surely die as if a malefactor, but unjustly so, for he had done no wrong,” replied Dionysius.

“If this Jesus were a god man, he should have saved himself and proved it,” countered Demetrios.

“But that is just the point, my dear friend.  Paul said that his purpose was not to save himself, but to save all who would repent and believe.  …And I have, Demetrios.  I have repented and I believe.  Paul teaches that having done so, I am guiltless before God, and if I should die even now, I will be with the Lord in paradise,” explained Dionysius.

“Away with you and your crazy Jew teachings!  It is folly to all thinking Greeks,” snarled Demetrios.

And with that Dionysius slowly stopped, as Demetrios marched forward toward the sound of the waves crashing onto the beach, which was now coming into view.

Demetrios walked alone in the night onto the beach; the full moon’s light piercing the sky.  He came to the tide’s edge and stared off into the moonlit horizon.  Then looking to his left, he could see the lights inside the houses on the cliffs.  He knew people were gathered there, which made him feel all the more alone in the night.

He realized he had been gripping the die that Dionysius had given him all the while he had been walking so intently down from the Areopagus.  He opened his fist and gazed at the die in the moonlight.  His feelings towards Dionysius and the Jew grew only harder by the sight, and with a loud cry he cast the die into the deep.

He sat down on the sand, staring out at the darkness.  The ocean breeze that had blown so mightily, seemed to give up its impetus.  All fell silent except the rhythmic crashing of the surf.  The clouds began to roll over the moon, and the light began to fade, even as a deathly chill set in that Demetrios seemed to feel to his bones.

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Published in: on March 18, 2009 at 8:15 am  Comments (8)  

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. You write like a professional author! This is a great story, Charlie. What prompted it??

  2. ^Hey Austin, …I’ve just had in the back of my mind for a long time, that it would fun to write short stories based on real biblical narratives. I like to see it from the perspective of a somewhat random onlooker. I’m thinking about writing more from other biblical stories….maybe a “Fly on the Wall,” series or something. I know it’s not Hemmingway, but I just enjoy it.

  3. Charlie after reading a little more closely (rather than for just being told to, cough cough) I think it is a great story. The imagery and is outstanding and the diaologue is great. The character development is very good especially since it’s a short story. All in all I would love to see a “Fly on the wall series”.

  4. I concur!

  5. Fiction is a waste of time but I’ll read it later tonight.

    I’m sure it is good….Charlie does a good job in the writing department.

  6. Touche. (I was giving David a hard time recently about reading fiction.)

  7. Hey man I really like it! More coming soon?

  8. Thanks. I’m real busy right now, but I’m already trying to think of the plot for another one. I’m leaning towards the centurion that said, “Surely this is the Son of God.”

    I tried to include a lot of figurative language that people familiar with the Bible might catch. The prideful knowledge of the Greeks and their rejection of the simple gospel. Their rejection of the idea that someone would die for someone not worthy of it. There was a parallel in their last conversation between them and the thieves on the crosses, the “die has been cast,” and the imagery of death at the end, etc. I hope that is what makes it interesting.


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