(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, Sunday, July 22, 2012)
Daily Office readings for Sunday, July 22, 2012:
Psalm 63:1-8 (9-11), 98 (Morning)
Psalm 44 (Evening)
Acts 22:30-23:11 (NRSV:)
Since he wanted to find out what Paul was being accused of by the Jews, the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and the entire council to meet. He brought Paul down and had him stand before them.
While Paul was looking intently at the council he said, “Brothers, up to this day I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God.” Then the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near him to strike him on the mouth. At this Paul said to him, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting there to judge me according to the law, and yet in violation of the law you order me to be struck?” Those standing nearby said, “Do you dare to insult God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I did not realize, brothers, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a leader of your people.’”
When Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three.) Then a great clamor arose, and certain scribes of the Pharisees’ group stood up and contended, “We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” When the dissension became violent, the tribune, fearing that they would tear Paul to pieces, ordered the soldiers to go down, take him by force, and bring him into the barracks. That night the Lord stood near him and said, “Keep up your courage! For just as you have testified for me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.”
One of my favorite brands of jokes from the Blue Collar Comedy Tour is the "...and that's when the fight started..." jokes. (They almost always involve a tactless husband who puts his foot in it by saying things that "...and that's when the fight started..." would be my next move, too, if my theoretical husband told me that!)
Well, our reading in Acts today is definitely an "...and that's when the fight started..." moment. Paul has been arrested, not just for his controversial preaching, but because he also allegedly brought Greeks into the temple in Jerusalem. (He had been seen in the company of Trophimus the Ephesian in the city, and some folks were stretching tales a bit.) He had been bound by the Roman soldiers and subsequently unbound when it was discovered that he was a Roman citizen. All the same, the tribune wanted to see what he fuss was all about, and brought him to stand before the Sanhedrin. Paul quickly notices that there are both Pharisees and Sadducees on the council, so when asked of the charges he says he's on trial "concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead."
Paul's no fool; he knows that the Pharisees, by and large, are in acceptance of the relatively new notion at the time that there was a resurrection of the dead, and the Sadducees are not.
...and that IS when the fight started...a really ugly one, and apparently more about the possibility of the resurrection of the dead, between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, than it was about Paul...one so ugly that the tribune feared for Paul's life and brought him back to the Roman barracks with him. Protective custody, as it were.
It's a reminder that speaking the blunt or unpopular truth, even a truth told in love, is risky business, and the truth-teller can be torn to bits in the process. Once the truth is out, things may never well be the same. It reminds me of those truths that get told in an intervention. A family member might finally screw up the courage to tell the raw truth of how the addict in the family has caused them harm. It hurts. It's painful. A fight might break out in the family. But when talking to folks in recovery, the story they often tell is of how those truths touched something deep inside of them, and became the nucleus for a desire to change.
So many times we enter a tense situation hoping that everyone will play nice, and only rarely does that happen. However, even in the tension, we can hear the stories of resurrection, hope and healing. Proclaiming the Good News in Christ with a message of inclusion rather than judgment or exclusion can sound unsettling, disorienting, or radical to people who have been steeped in the negative press clippings of Christianity. It can put us in the middle of a tense situation indeed. But it's the stuff recovery is made of, and the stuff our Baptismal Covenant is made of. It challenges us to seek and serve Christ through new permutations of a two thousand year old message.
Are we ready to invite others to the inclusive, revealed truth of the resurrected Christ, even if a fight breaks out?