(first published July 11, 2012)
Paul writes a letter to some people he’s never seen. They live in the town of Colossae, a town that used to be important until the trade route changed. He tells them
“All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.”
We read that and our contemporary geography says, “But Paul. You know very little of the world. You are working in 1/4 of the coast of the Mediterranean. There are people and continents and civilizations who have never heard of you, never heard your message.” And in that critique we smile and shake our heads at how limited the perspective of this man..
When Paul wrote this, he was likely sitting in jail in Rome. It was the center of an empire that went from England to Egypt, Gibraltar to Galilee. If Mesopotamia is the cradle of civilization, this area is the Roman rumpus room.
Paul’s awareness of the Gospel started in Jerusalem, the historic capital of a province that had been under subjugation for generations. If Rome was the heart of empire, Jerusalem was a self-deluded right toe. It believed itself “God’s country”, and would hurt if you stubbed it, but it wasn’t a place that you would look for wisdom.
And yet, the message about Jesus had, in the adult lifetime of Paul, spread from Jerusalem to Rome, from a criminal crucified to the followers in the household of Caesar.
When Paul talked about the gospel “all over the world”, he may have been geographically imprecise, but he was spot on in describing the viral spread of this particular good news. In one sentence Paul shows these small-town experiences are part of a world-changing story.