All in a day’s ministry

Hindsight, as they say, is better than foresight.  In other words, when disaster strikes or you’ve made a mistake, it seems obvious in retrospect what you should have done. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so obvious beforehand, when you had a chance to do something different. So, in the interests of improving our foresight, here’s a word to the wise: don’t sit in an open third-story window when you’re sleepy.

You’re welcome.

As we saw in the previous post, a young man named Eutychus, who was probably a slave who had heard and accepted the gospel message in Troas, had come to listen to Paul teach. Having worked a full day, trying to stay awake as Paul spoke on into the night, Eutychus sat in the open window, hoping the fresh air would help keep him alert. But he couldn’t help himself: he fell fast asleep, and fell to his death.

But the apostle Paul was one in whom the healing power of the Holy Spirit was mightily at work. Thus, Luke reports that Paul rushed downstairs, “fell on him and embraced him, then said, ‘Don’t be alarmed. He’s alive!'” (Acts 20:10, CEB).

Some decline to see a healing miracle here, as if Eutychus was only stunned. This is despite the fact that Luke, a physician (Col 4:14), reports that Eutychus was “picked up dead” (Acts 20:9, NRSV).

Moreover, Luke has already told us that even things that had only touched Paul were being used to heal people (Acts 19:11-12), without Paul even being present. It shouldn’t be hard to imagine, then, that Paul was able to heal Eutychus when he was present. Indeed, the story echoes the healing miracles of Elijah (e.g., 1 Kings 17:21) and Elisha (e.g., 2 Kings 4:34-35). Like a prophet of old, Paul brought poor Eutychus back to life, to the great relief of the community (Acts 20:12).

But here’s want I want us to note: the story is told as if it was just another day at the (church) office. And this, I think, has important implications for how pastors and others in full-time ministry understand their vocation.

In most miracle stories, the miracle itself is the climax or centerpiece. Looky here, the stories seem to say; witness the power of God!  We might expect, then, that Luke would highlight the miracle — And then Paul raised Eutychus from the dead! — tell us how people reacted — All who saw it were filled with joy and astonishment! — and then move on.

Here, however, the miracle gets one whole verse (and an ambiguous one at that), sandwiched between descriptions of the far more ordinary, even humdrum aspects of ministry.

Paul had a lot to say to this group of new believers before he left town, and went on for hours on end. (Personally, I know what it’s like to have to teach for several hours straight. And yes, sometimes people get sleepy. But at least I have yet to literally bore someone to death.) Then Eutychus fell out the window, and Paul rushed down to heal him.

End of story? Not quite. Luke adds, “Then Paul went back upstairs and ate. He talked for a long time — right up until daybreak — then he left” (Acts 20:11, CEB). In other words, Paul blah blah blah blah; then Eutychus died and Paul brought him back to life; then Paul had a snack and blah blah blah blah until the sun came up. 

It’s almost as if Luke wants to say, “Miracles are great. But ministry happens in the blah blah blah. That’s the work of God, too.”

Thus, to any ministers who are reading this: sometimes, it seems like the people you serve expect you to work miracles. Sometimes, you expect it of yourself. And when such miracles happen, they are indeed occasions for joy and praise.

Just don’t forget: God is in the grunt work, too.