A Wise Move, Paul!

Politics makes strange bedfellows. When I start talking politics, especially as a priest, it makes folks (rightfully) nervous. After all, as a priest I’m suppose to focus on being accessible and available to all people regardless of their positions on this or that political matter. And that’s true.

But I’ve also found it extremely helpful to myself and even to others to embrace the wisdom of discovering our real intentions and even spiritual illnesses. I confess, sometimes I say things just to keep the conversation “lively.” And, as a fallible human being, sometimes I get it wrong. But even that revelation is helpful to me and all those around me. It invites me to my greatest spiritual need of humility and repentance. And, it can even invite those around me to their own place of humility and repentance. I confess, to my deep sadness, that it doesn’t always work out that way. But, does that mean I should avoid this challenge altogether?

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.”

St. Paul has been arrested AGAIN! By the way, he won’t get out of this last brush with the authorities alive.

While he’s being interrogated about the charges against him he says he’s innocent. At that, the high priest of the Jewish Temple commands the guard near Paul to slap him in the face. How rude! Paul says as much and even adds a little colorful description of the man who commanded the slap. He is then informed he’s just insulted the High Priest. By the way, the role of High Priest was a rotating role among the Jewish priests so it isn’t surprising that Paul may have not known who was in the position at that time.

The Sanhedrin was the Supreme Court of the Jewish nation. It was where the theocratic system of religion and politics merged to judge the serious cases of Jewish law and societal behavior. It was also a court that was divided by differences of opinion about Jewish theology. Sound familiar?

The two main Jewish factions were the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees rejected most of the Hebrew scriptures except the first 5 books of Moses. They rejected an afterlife, miracles, angels, basically anything to do with the so called “supernatural.” They were also the most highly educated and wealthy. The Pharisees were also well educated, but they believed in everything the Sadducees didn’t. The Pharisees considered the Sadducees “liberal.” Paul was trained as a Pharisee! And he used the divisions of the court to his advantage when he proclaimed that he was being persecuted because he believed in the resurrection of the dead. The Pharisees immediately sided with Paul against the Sadducees! Brilliant move, Paul! Of course this did get him sent to Rome, which was God’s will for Paul in the first place!

Today, don’t always avoid the challenges that reveal the hearts of those around you, and even the true needs of your own heart. While we never purposefully goad others with controversy for controversy’s sake, we also shouldn’t shy away from the revelations of reality when controversy erupts. Being Orthodox on Purpose just means we handle controversy with mercy and love; not hiding from it!

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