Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Unlikely Rescuers, Acts 23:12-35

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Think First, Acts 22:22-23:11

We’ve all done it, haven’t we? We’ve all said something we wish we could’ve taken back. We’ve all made stupid choices in haste without thinking through the consequences. We’ve all wanted to take back words and actions. Much pain and confusion could be avoided if only we would think first. The same is true of our characters in today’s Scripture passage. We see folks speaking and acting rashly. First is Lysias the tribune. Lysias had already presumed Paul was another criminal. He has since learned that Paul is a Jew, not an Ethiopian. He has allowed Paul to speak, and Paul shared his testimony. But Paul has been interrupted by the crowd again calling for Paul’s death. Once again, Paul is taken away. Lysias is determined to get to the truth by having it flogged out of Paul. Lysias is acting without thinking. He doesn’t know this man at all. Paul is spared the flogging by asking his would be punisher if it is legal for him to flog an uncondemned Roman citizen. The centurion goes to Lysias and tells him Paul is a Roman citizen. It would have been illegal for Paul to be physically harmed in any way as a prisoner until proven guilty, in fact he shouldn’t even have been bound! This could have cost both men their jobs and resulted in their own beatings and imprisonments. Not only is Paul a Roman citizen, he is one by birth, whereas Lysias paid for his citizenship status--all the more reason that Paul should have been protected and given rights under due process as a Roman citizen. Lysias and his henchmen are now fearful, for Paul has the right to press charges against them. Paul does not, but Paul does demand justice. All this could have been avoided if Lysias had thought first and if Lysias had followed proper protocol. His fear of a riot led him to treat Paul as if Paul were guilty. We learn proper ways of doing things for a reason. How often have shortcuts only ended up making things worse? How many times have you had to backpedal when doing things the right way the first time, would have saved a lot of trouble? More importantly, how can we act rightly if we do not know the truth? Lysias should have asked Paul directly who he was and what was going on. He assumed before he knew. We cannot afford to assume truth. We must seek it out and act on truth, not on assumptions. The next guilty party for not thinking before acting is Paul himself! Lysias brings in the Jewish leaders so that he can hear why they are demanding Paul’s death. As Paul once again starts to defend himself, Ananias, the high priest, orders his lackeys to hit Paul on the mouth. Paul says to him, “God will strike you, you white-washed wall!” A normal reaction for sure, but not the smartest one! But those near him point out that he has slandered the high priest. Though Paul’s trial parallels the Maundy Thursday/Good Friday trials of Jesus, Paul is not Jesus. He is not silent, and he speaks foolishly. Paul is not perfect. He is a sinner just like us. Paul backpedals and says he didn’t know that Ananias was the high priest. Whether Paul really knew or not is to be debated. But Paul was wise enough to know that name calling, even though true, wasn’t going to help his case, and as Paul himself quotes, this name-calling is contrary to God’s word. In quoting the text, Paul calls himself to repentance. Just because something may be true doesn’t make it necessary if it causes harm. We too lapse easily into name calling when we are treated unjustly. We even lapse into name calling when someone does something we don’t like. How guilty are we of resorting to name calling over politics and religion or over someone’s opinions? And social media hasn’t helped us much. I think people are much nastier to each other through electronic communication then they would ever be to someone’s face. Name-calling is never helpful. A former boss of mine passed along this advice—when you have something to say, check first: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? If it’s not true, it’s not worth repeating—it’s gossip. If it isn’t kind, then make sure it is necessary. Are we as quick to repent over our hasty words, hasty actions, and reactions as Paul was? Paul reminded himself, or was reminded by the Holy Spirit, what the law said about people in authority. We might remember that Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek. Or we might call to mind that we also are instructed to submit to those in authority. Paul is able to calm himself down, though he has been hit unjustly, and analyze the situation. In taking those moments, he is able to deflect the attention from himself and expose his accusers. Paul says plainly that he is on trial because he preaches the resurrection. This causes infighting between the Pharisees, who believe in resurrection, and the Sadducees, who do not, as some Pharisee scribes wanted to exonerate Paul. The tribune removes Paul from the room because once again, Paul’s accusers lapse into mob mentality. Paul truthfully states in simple terms that he is on trial for preaching THE resurrection. He is being persecuted for preaching the resurrection of Jesus. His persecution had nothing to do with breaking Jewish laws or defiling the Temple, but for proclaiming Jesus as Messiah. His Pharisee brothers concede that Paul is not guilty of any mortal crime. He is at most deluded and perhaps, even speaks by divine inspiration. Most importantly, Paul is vindicated by the Lord, who appears standing by him, telling him to be of good cheer, for Paul must also bear witness in Rome, where Paul has been longing to go. Even when we are treated unjustly, we need to think first. It is better that we are treated unjustly and find our vindication in Christ as Paul does when Jesus validates Paul’s testimony, then to give our accusers further reason to find fault with us. When we slow down and analyze the situation before we speak or act rashly, we are far less likely to end up with our foot in our mouths or lying in bed awake at night thinking of what we should have said or done instead. When we slow down, we are more likely to be led by the Spirit then by our flight or fight reaction. We can have the confidence that Scripture tells us that we don’t have to worry about what we are going to say, but the Spirit will put words in our mouth. Letting the Spirit speak through us requires that we submit our automatic responses to God and pause. When we stop being defensive, we will find that we can truly testify as Paul did.