There’s an old saying: “There are two things you don’t want to watch being made – Sausage and Church Politics!” Funny. But the humor reveals some challenges that, if we face them, will help us weather times of conflict and even scandalous behavior by people we thought should know better.
The truth is it isn’t reasonable to expect more out of anyone else than you expect from yourself. We humans are notoriously double minded when it comes to our expectations of others AND our hope others will be merciful with us in our mistakes all the while we hold them to standards we, ourselves, can’t and don’t keep. You see the problem here, don’t you?
But what if there was a perspective that allowed us to be at peace even when our leaders who we thought would behave differently don’t perform as we expect them to perform? What if even the debates and the compromises are actually all working toward an end where all will be made right?
Look at our lesson today in Acts 23:1-11:
IN THOSE DAYS, Paul, looking intently at the council, said, “Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience up to this day.” And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God shall strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’ ” But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead I am on trial.” And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. Then a great clamor arose; and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn in pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them and bring him into the barracks. The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified about me at Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also at Rome.”
What strikes me most about this passage isn’t the all the conflict or even Paul’s persecution, but the final revelation in the scripture today as St. Paul is told that all of these events are leading him exactly to the path he was meant to travel. He was meant by God to go to Rome and witness for the Gospel of Christ and His Church!
Notice all the moving parts of this passage. First Paul is not timid in his defense of the Faith, regardless of the consequences. Next. Paul, even after having been struck in the face, both confesses and then uses the sad divisions among the Jewish leaders to aid his witness. Finally, when the enemies of Paul were engaged in such violent fighting even among themselves, his Roman guards stepped in to pull him out of the middle of these grown men actually tearing each other apart even though they were suppose to be the leaders of the Faith in the one, true God. A shameful display of so-called leaders abandoning their purpose for their own power!
But in spite of all this madness and shameful division, the Lord Himself reminded Paul that even this shameful “church politics” cannot thwart God’s plan to redeem His world! The Lord encourages Paul that all of this, even the childishness of the religious leaders, all serves the ultimate purpose of getting Paul to Rome to leave the lasting legacy of faithfulness that still encourages us today!
Today, are you easily disturbed by the weaknesses of even your leaders? Do you allow the petty foolishness of others to steal the glorious truth that God really can use even the conflict around you to shape you into the person you were called to become? Take courage today! All these events around you are never more powerful than the Lord above you! Remember this and you’ll be Orthodox on Purpose!