(Gustave Dore's "The Stoning of Achan" courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. After they had proclaimed the good news to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, then on to Iconium and Antioch. There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.” And after they had appointed elders for them in each church, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the Lord in whom they had come to believe. Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From there they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had completed. When they arrived, they called the church together and related all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith for the Gentiles. And they stayed there with the disciples for some time.
I was really surprised, when I researched this passage, both in my Access Bible and my New Interpreter's Study Bible, that the comments made no mention of what I thought was the most interesting thing in this passage from my Daily Office reading--namely, that Paul had been stoned, dragged out of town, and left for dead!
Stoning is a form of execution I have to remind myself of the details. The engraving I posted above of another stoning, the stoning of Achan, reminds me that it wasn't like what one saw in the movies (Good looking woman gets some rocks thrown at her but her face is still beautiful and very much intact.) When someone got stoned, it wasn't like the crowd threw driveway gravel at them, they threw some pretty good sized rocks. In the more "official" types of stoning, the prisoner was bound at the foot of a tall tower and literally, small boulders were dropped on them. In the more "spontaneous" forms, (as this one was) people just more or less grabbed whatever sized rock they could heft and started throwing.
But at any rate, this story is a reminder how fast the "crowd mentality" can take over. These were people who, at first, were inspired and excited by Paul's preaching. But when the religious authorities showed up, whatever they said got the crowd whipped into a frenzy, and, when we read about the various stonings in the Bible, many times, we discover that in many of them, the emotions of the fickle and easily excitable crowd start to take on forms of vigilante justice without a second thought.
We like to think that we are much more sophisticated than this, but the harsh reality is this: Although the crowd mentality may no longer, in modern American life, result in the physical stoning of people, we certainly are capable of psychologically stoning them. E-mails go viral, groups succumb to the will of the gossip mill, and schools experience the "piling on" effect of bullying.
We may no longer physically leave people for dead, but we certainly psychologically leave them for dead, blocking them out of our mind and shunning them.
I can barely imagine what a physical mess Paul must have been, to have been dragged out of town and left for dead, literally, to "die in the ditch." He was certainly comatose. His breathing must have been virtually nonexistent. His face must have been a bloody pulp. Yet, somehow, he survives what must have been a horrifying experience to him--imagine things appearing to be to meet a death exactly like what he not only witnessed with the stoning of Stephen, but holding the coats of the ones doing the deed.
Not only does he survive, he bounces back and immediately starts preaching again. My guess is that his witness is more powerful than ever, disfigured and still with bits of dried blood sticking to his flesh and covered in cuts and contusions.
I am reminded of the book, St. George and the Dragon and the Quest for the Holy Grail, by Edward Hays. If you've never read the book, you ought to. George meets a dragon named Igor, and discovers something very important about this dragon:
"From my position high on the dragon's back, I noticed that the dragon's body was covered with old wounds. Whenever the dragon breathed forth fire to light the path in front of us, I noticed that the wounds glowed golden-red in the dark. When I asked about them, the dragon replied, "Oh, my friend, I have been slain a thousand times, but I have always arisen again. These old wounds are the source of my power and my insight. Our greatest and worst enemies are not the monsters who roam the forest or even wicked witches or evil wizards. No, it is our scars, our wounds, and old injuries that we must fear. As we journey through life we have all been injured--hurt by parents, brothers or sister, schoolmates, strangers, lovers, teachers. Each wound has the power to talk to us, you know. They speak, however, with crooked voices because of the scars."
The Holy Spirit, I believe, does not work so much through our goodness, but instead through our scars, making them glow much like Igor the Dragon's scars did. When people see the light of the Holy Spirit in us, are we embarrassed that it is our scars that glow, or accepting of it? When we are left for dead by the roadside, do we lie there, fearing our ugliness from the beating, or do we bounce back and start letting the Holy Spirit guide us? Once we allow the light of the Holy Spirit to shine through our scars, it's amazing what love and grace others can see in a broken world.